It seems like tennis balls would have always been yellow since that’s the color most of us have likely seen in our lives, but that hasn’t always been the case. Not only has the tennis ball changed color, but many other things have changed about the fuzzy ball over the years.
Tennis has been around since the 1870s and was known as lawn tennis since it was played on a grass surface. It came from an older version called royal or real tennis. In real tennis, the balls were made of stitched leather and stuffed with a soft substance, while in lawn tennis the balls were made with a rubber core. Eventually they had a hallow core and used gas to pressurize the inside. The balls have only recently (in modern contexts) been yellow. They used to be black or white, which depended on the color of the court. It wasn’t until 1972 that the International Tennis Federation introduced yellow tennis balls into the official rules of the game. The reason was the yellow color of the balls made the ball more visible to viewers watching the game on T.V. It was even known as “optic yellow”. Orange balls had been shown by studies to be the most visible against many backgrounds and surfaces, but they didn’t show up well on television. The event at Wimbledon continued to use white balls until 1986, when yellow balls were finally adopted there. You can find any number of different colored tennis balls for sale, but the color yellow is the only approved color in professional adult competition.
The original white and black balls were made out of a single sheet of rubber in a three-leaf clover pattern. Over time, and as the demands of the game increased, the balls were made into two half-shells. The color didn’t change again after 1972, but there were special types of balls introduced into the game later. Balls that were approved for high altitude were introduced in 1989, and two other types of ball (Type 1 and Type 3) were introduced in 2002. The Type 1 ball was a fast-speed ball that was slightly harder than the regular ball (Type 2) that is used for a court surface that is considered slow. The Type 3 ball is slower and larger than the regular, Type 2 ball, and is intended for a faster court. Based on the court’s location and type, each of these types of ball are available to a player.
The color of a tennis ball is just a small part that has changed about tennis balls. Research using wind tunnels where the aerodynamic properties of a tennis ball have been studied, along with the result of the impact of ball, have allowed the seemingly simple tennis ball to be refined as players have become faster and stronger, rackets and string technology has improved, and court surfaces have become more advanced.