Tennis is a sport filled with quirks. From players arranging their water bottles in a particular sequence before the match, to bouncing the ball an exact number of times before serving, there is no end to the lengths players will go to, just to be able to perform their best on the court.
One of the questions that come to the minds of many tennis watchers is, ‘Why do most tennis players carry an extra ball with them before serving?’
Most of the male players put an extra tennis ball in their pocket, while the females attach them on their thigh with the inners of their skirt. In the yesteryear, players were seen to have plastic clamps on their back straps to hold the extra ball.
Unlike some of the typical behavior shown by sportsmen, this habit of carrying an extra ball before serving has some sound reasoning to it.
Reasons to Avoid Carrying Extra Tennis Ball?
Before we discuss about the reasons for the same, let us have a look at what could go wrong when a player carries an extra ball prior to serving.
If at any time during the point, the ball falls out of the players pocket/ attachment, the point is deemed to be a let.
If it happens for a second time, the player ends up losing the point. If it happens repeatedly during a match, the player can even get disqualified as it can be deemed to be an attempt at distracting the opponent.
Some players feel that having a ball in the pocket is uncomfortable and may affect their movement.
At the highest levels of tennis, where even the minutest of margins can affect the result of a match, a player does not want his/ her movement to get restricted because of the extra ball. Even if that is not actually happening, no player wants to have any lingering doubts about the ease of their mobility.
Then Why Carry the Extra Tennis Ball?
Now that we know what could go wrong because of carriage on an extra ball during serving, let us have a look at the reasons why players still continue with such a practice.
Habit and Routine Formation
Every sportsperson is a creature of habit. There are routines that have got set in a player over a period of several years through thousands of hours of practice right from childhood.
As a youngster plying their trade in unknown futures tournaments, a budding player does not have the luxury of ball kids handing over the ball.
So to avoid having to chase after balls between two serves, the routine of carriage of an extra ball prior to serving sets in – something that carries with them till they reach the highest echelons of the game.
Being in the Zone
A number of times, you would have commentators mention that a player is in his/ her ‘zone’. When players achieve such a stage they do not want anything to distract them and want to block out any disturbances.
Imagine a player has hit an ace, and now wants to follow it up with another perfect serve. However, since he/ she is not carrying an extra ball in the pocket, will now have to look towards the ball kid to get the ball for the next service. This has the potential to bring about a lapse in concentration and focus.
Having an extra ball in the pocket reduces the possibilities of such a situation.
Time Violation Penalty
In an earlier paragraph we spoke about habits getting developed as youngsters which carry on through the career of the player.
One major reason for such a habit getting formed is the penalty that gets imposed if a player is not able to commence the serve within 20 seconds (25 seconds for ATP and WTA events) of the previous point.
While the time allotted may seem to be adequate, each player has a number of preparation regimes prior to serving.
Right from adjusting the cap, the wrist band, the hair, or adjusting the racket string. All this is before the player adjusts the position at the baseline, bounces the ball numerable times prior to tossing it for the serve.
To avoid having to fight against the clock every time between points, players prefer to have an extra ball handy with them.
This becomes even more applicable when as a beginner there will not be ball kids around like in major tournaments.
If you scroll through old videos of tennis matches, you would see players serving with two balls in their non-serving hand. This was done precisely for the reason to avoid delay between consecutive serves.
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Much of this was evident during days when shorts did not have pockets big enough to hold a tennis ball.
Now with the advancement in sports clothing especially for elite athletes, such a situation is not encountered. Very rarely does one witness the tennis ball dropping out of the player’s pocket or the skirt.
Without affecting the range of movement and mobility, shorts have pockets deep enough to hold tennis balls. Men’s shorts are designed to provide the greatest comfort and range of motion so players could move completely free.
Also, the pockets are deep enough for holding a couple of balls. Similarly for women players tennis dresses provide ball pockets for easy access.
Check Amazon’s pricing here if you are looking to buy tennis shorts with pockets and skirts to be able to hold the extra tennis balls.
Final Word on Extra Tennis Ball in the Pocket
The convenience of having ball kids retrieving and feeding the balls is available to players only after they reach a certain level in their playing careers.
Even after that, during their practice routines, the luxury of getting fed with balls is not available. It is fair to say that a player spends more time practicing with the coach or a partner, than playing an actual match.
Hence, to continue with the momentum during training and to avoid wastage of time, players prefer to have more than one ball with them while serving.
Some of the top most players in the world however do not conform to the usual procedure of carrying an extra ball before service.
The likes of Roger Federer, Serena Williams prefer to serve with just one ball on them, and then ask for another one from the ball kid whenever needed. Considering the kind of success that they have had, one can say that every player has a method that suits him/her and should stick to it.
To know what works for you, make a comparison while undertaking practice. For about 15 minutes or so, try to serve without having another ball in your pocket, where someone feeds you the ball before every serve.
Thereafter, play another 15 minutes with an extra ball in the pocket. If you are the kind who is able to not get distracted by the constant lookout for ball kids after every point, and are able to retain your focus then not carrying an extra ball may be the way ahead. However, do keep a check on the time limit !
For someone who has spent a substantial part of his life on the tennis court, I have got used to the feeling of having the tennis ball in my short pocket.
I have very rarely had instances when the ball fell out of the pocket, or acted as an obstruction to my swing. It helps me retain my momentum, prevents me from getting distracted too often, and most importantly helps me obviate the possibility of a time violation penalty.