NEW YORK (AP) — Coco Gauff’s father sometimes pinches her racket, and the 18-year-old American never realizes it.
But a variation in tennis balls as there is between those used by women and men US Openis a different story.
“Yes, I can definitely say there is a difference.” Gauff said.
And some of the other top women in the game are pretty annoyed by the discrepancy.
Days before the first in the tournament is beaten, Friday’s US Open balls were a topic of discussion. It’s the only Grand Slam event where women use a slightly modified version of the ball, and leader Iga Swiatek is among those frustrated that her lighter ball isn’t performing as well.
“After a couple of games the conditions really change totally because it’s getting lighter. They lose fluffiness,” said the two-time French Open champion and US Open top seed. “Sometimes it’s hard to adapt.”
According to the US Tennis Association, men and women use the same balls in terms of size, pressure, and design. The tournament media guide notes that the only difference is that the men use an Extra Duty felt ball while the women use a Regular Duty felt ball.
They’ve been playing with the different types for decades, so it’s not a new topic. It’s resurfaced this year, partly because of Swiatek’s comments. Even players who normally pay little attention are wondering if it’s time for a change.
“I’m someone who doesn’t really care about these things because I usually adjust (my game),” said Wimbledon runners-up Ons Jabeur. “I’m the worst person to ask because usually if you give me some (ball) I’ll play it. But it would make sense if we played with the same balls as the men because we do that at other Grand Slams too. I get your point.”
Swiatek complained at last week’s Cincinnati hard court tournament that uses the same type of ball for women as the US Open. Fourth-placed Paula Badosa is another critic and Swiatek said they stand by their stance.
They should have started making an issue of it much sooner if they were going to have any chance of a move this year. The USTA consults with tours and outfitter Wilson to provide recommendations on what type of balls should be used in the tournament, but this must be done with enough time to have them ready when players arrive.
“These decisions are made months in advance to store the nearly 100,000 match balls used at the US Open each year,” the USTA said in a statement.
The regular felt balls were brought into play for women long ago to limit the risk of injury, but today’s players say they can handle a heavier ball. Besides even Wilson’s own website notes that the Extra Duty Ball is ideal for hard courts – the surface of Flushing Meadows – while the Regular Duty Ball is best for soft, clay and indoor courts.
“The WTA has historically used regular felt balls for play on hard courts, and we have now begun to hear from a select number of our athletes that they would consider switching to using the extra-duty ball,” WTA wrote spokeswoman Amy Binder emailed The Associated Press. “The reason for using the regular felt ball was that it limits the risk of arm, shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries. We will continue to monitor and discuss this with both our athletes and our sports science teams.”
Some players say they don’t care about the balls; Even Swiatek noted that they’re the same for all women, so it’s not just certain athletes who have to adjust to them.
“Right now I’m just glad we have (every) tennis ball,” joked US Open 2021 runner-up Leylah Fernandez. “I remember years ago I couldn’t even get a tennis ball, so I had to go with one of these little ones.” colorful balls or play against the wall with the ping-pong ball.”
However, defending men’s champion Daniil Medvedev pointed out that tennis matches can sometimes be decided by inches, leaving players sensitive to everything from equipment to conditions.
“I like US Open Wilson balls. At the same time, I will be honest – for example, I hate (the) balls in Indian Wells and Miami,” he said. “I’m open about that. I want them to switch those balls, but that’s not how it works. If you can hear me: Please change the bullets for next year.”
If Swiatek and other women have their way, it might be the US Open.
“I know that many players want to change the ball,” said Gauff. “I’m fine with that. Anyway. I mean, whatever the majority wants, I’m fine with that.”
AP tennis writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.
More AP coverage of US Open Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/us-open-tennis-championships and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports