Debate is raging across the tennis world after the Australian Open announced it has extended its partnership with under-fire ball manufacturer Dunlop Sports.
Despite player complaints about the fluffy balls being used at the 2023 Open, the deal has been renewed for a further five years.
Images of players returning dead balls to match officials and labouring through marathon rallies have soured the first four rounds of the tournament, with players frustrated about the lack of spin they’re able to impart on the ball.
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Defending champion Rafael Nadal had complained heading into this year’s tournament that the balls were “worse quality, without a doubt.
“It’s a ball that don’t get the same spin as usual.
“After a couple of hits, the ball lose the pressure.”
Pressure isn’t the only factor that the players have complained about, with the durability also under fire.
Nine-time Open winner Novak Djokovic complained: “The longer you play, the fluffier the ball becomes and it’s slower.”
With the cacophony of complaints getting louder as the tournament starts to reach the business end, tennis legend John McEnroe has rubbished the complaints from the players, calling it “much to do about pretty much nothing” in an interview with Eurosport.
“Oh it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too windy, I play too late, I play too late, I play too early, the tension is not right in my racquet, the balls get too heavy,” he said.
McEnroe said if players were having issues with the balls, the solution was in string tension.
“Of course, the balls get heavier after the way these guys and girls hit it now.
“After three or four games, if in fact the balls are getting heavier or you think they are getting heavier, use the frame with slightly looser strengths.”
The seven-time Slam winner praised modern players for their ability to make adjustments on the fly, and put most of the complaints down to early-tournament nerves.
“That’s one of the things that tennis players do better than almost anyone in any sport.
“They have to go to different time zones, they play at different times, they play with different balls.
“These things are par for the course for tennis players, so usually when people are amped up and nervous about how they are going to do in the tournament and they get closer to it, everything seems to be wrong.
“I think eventually, you will see now it’s the end of the first week, you’re not gonna be hearing much talk about the balls anymore.”
Tournament director Craig Tiley said Tennis Australia was thrilled with Dunlop’s quality when they made the switch from Wilson in 2019, despite criticism at the time from Bernard Tomic and Roger Federer.
“We’ve worked closely with Dunlop for some time and are impressed with their quality control at every stage, from design right through to the manufacturing process,” he said when the deal was first signed.
He also defended the quality of the balls for this year’s tournament, saying this year’s ball was “exactly the same specification” as last year, in an interview on SEN.
“One thing that has been different this year has been the conditions,” he said.
“We’ve had more extreme heat, more rain, more extremes in weather.
“That has changed the conditions.”
Tennis Australia, in a statement to News Corp, said that they would “continue to gather feedback from the playing group and ensure it is factored into the design, manufacturing and testing process.”
Despite the multitude of player complaints, new data can reveal that this year’s Open has still favoured the baseline specialists and flat hitters that are known for traditionally dominating the men’s fixtures at Melbourne Park.
Using measurements of average topspin on backhands and forehands drawn from a variety of ATP tournaments in 2021, a data analysis can show the most spin-reliant players on tour were knocked out early in the tournament, with third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas the only spin-heavy player to make the quarter-finals of this year’s tournament.
Norwegian Casper Ruud was knocked out by unseeded Jenson Brooksby in the second round, while defending champion Rafael Nadal also only won a solitary match as he struggled with injury.
Australian Alex de Minaur is the least spin-reliant player in the sample playing in this year’s men’s singles, and faces fourth seed Novak Djokovic in their fourth round clash on Rod Laver Arena on Monday night.