Australian Open 2024: Tennis’ balls problem as poor quality, fluffy balls causing injuries, Novak Djokovic wrist, problem explained, latest news

It’s a far more preferable storyline than the visa status of a world No.1 and defending champion, but controversy nonetheless is bubbling away heading into this year’s Australian Open.

This time, it centres around the actual tennis balls – making the consequences far more wide-reaching.

Player frustrations with constant ball changes between tournaments have been bubbling away for some time, but grievances have reached fever pitch ahead of the first major of the year.

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While not solely the fault of the Australian Open, the quality of ball has been questioned by some of the game’s biggest names heading into the 15-day tennis extravaganza, beginning Sunday.

The name Zizou Bergs might not mean much to the casual tennis fan, but he proved the spark that ignited a steady stream of criticism from players ranked far higher.

Last year, Bergs took aim at the constant changing of balls.

“I think it’s time to look carefully at the fact that many players are getting wrist injuries which could, possibly, be prevented by not changing every week of balls,” he wrote.

While Bergs primarily competes on the Challenger circuit, his comments reached far higher ranks, with three-time grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka agreeing.

US star Taylor Fritz joined in and then it was open season as far as balls were concerned.

Now those issues have flared ahead of one of tennis’ biggest events.

Each of the four majors as well as ATP tour events negotiate separately with sponsors on what balls to use for its event, which leads to frequent change across the season.

Dunlop has once again manufactured this year’s balls for the Australian Open, but the quality of them has come under question from some players.

Rafael Nadal made headlines at the start of last year when he labelled the Dunlop balls “worse quality” and again drew attention to them after a win over Jason Kubler in the Brisbane International this month.

“To be honest, the ball in that end of the first set was super big. Was difficult to move the ball the proper way,” he said.

“I think the ball gets too big sometimes, especially under these humid and night conditions. I don’t know what’s going on with the ball, but it’s dead.

“With the new balls, of course the situation change a lot.”

Retiring Australian tennis player John Millman echoed the thoughts of Nadal in December, posting on X this year’s balls have shown “significant wear when they age.”

At all professional events, the balls are changed after the first seven games of a match and then every nine games after that.

With fluffier, slower balls requiring more effort to generate pace, some players believe that trend – coupled with frequent changes between events – are contributing to arm injuries across the game.

World No.1 Novak Djokovic has in the past pushed for the tour to choose one ball to use throughout the season, with his recent wrist injury used by Australian Nick Kyrgios as proof action is needed.

“Change of balls every week finally got to Novak’s wrist … the ATP really need to do something about this problem,” Kyrgios wrote on X.

“Players suffer all the time. The people who think balls aren’t a big enough factor to result in an athlete being hurt are potatoes.

“The load through a player’s elbow, wrist over this vigorous season is enormous.”

Compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis was eliminated in the first round of the Adelaide International on Monday and hinted at an alarming rate of degradation with the 2024 balls.

“I remember here usually being a lot quicker,” he said.

“(Serving only) four aces is not something I’m used to, especially on a fairly quick playing surface … The balls, after a few rallies, get super slow and they turn into lemons.

“It makes it tough, especially when it’s colder, to get much power on the ball.”

The concerns extend to the WTA, with American player Lauren Davis announcing recently she wouldn’t travel to Australia and is instead “rehabbing a shoulder injury due to the many changes in balls.”

Others, however, have played a straighter bat when asked about ball quality.

Young Danish star Holger Rune said the ball changes were “just how it is”, noting he felt the difference but chose not to complain.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley once again insisted ahead of this year’s event plenty of work had gone into aiming for as much consistency as possible with the balls.

“The balls are tested every year and tested against the court surface and the conditions and it’s a long period of testing that will take place,” Tiley said when launching this year’s event last October.

“You can get a different pace and speed playing in the shade then playing at 12 o’clock in the day or playing at eight o’clock at night. So the variability actually in a day happens can happen significantly.

“What the objective is is to try and make that variability as little as possible. So the ball maintaining its condition on the court in different conditions is the objective. So we went through it again, like we do every year, because you get the feedback.”

Tiley noted some players have no issue with the balls, but feedback was constantly sought in order to “get the ball right.”

“But that’s a journey which will forever be a challenge because of the conditions, but I think we’re in a good space.”

Originally published as ‘Enormous’ issue under Aus Open radar… and why it could cost Djoker everything

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