Do you know how many tennis balls are used at the US Open 2023?

Tennis balls, US Open 2023 (sts)

Why such a question? Because environmental experts recently reported how much one ball decomposes. So what? Can you guess how many balls are used at the US Open right now?

It turns out that the number is huge! Approximately 100,000 balls are used during the US Open Grand Slam. Of course, this is an approximate number, which may decrease or increase slightly. The latter option is more likely when looking at the rules of tennis. This number is even more shocking when we find out how many balls are produced annually and how difficult they are to decompose.

About 330 million tennis balls are produced every year. Most of it ends up in landfills after it is used up. Turns out this can become a problem over time as these balls can take over 400 years to decompose! Why is the process taking so long?

The design of the tennis ball has remained largely unchanged since the advent of pressurized balls in the 1920s – consisting of a felt coating glued to a hollow rubber core filled with air. The obstacle to recycling the rubber contained in the ball is the difficulty in removing the felt from the rubber core due to the thick adhesive that keeps the cover in case of a racket hit. The felt itself is also an issue as the wool/nylon blend is non-recyclable. Moreover, the core of most high-end tennis balls, such as the Wilson ball used at the US Open, is made entirely of newly-formulated virgin rubber, which activists say leads to the deforestation of rubber trees.

So far, no tennis ball has been found to be more environmentally friendly, but this is about to change. The world tennis federation, ITF, took up the case. Last year, the ITF set up a technical working group of manufacturers, officials from other tennis governing bodies and recyclers with a set of goals:

  • Is there a way to design a fully recyclable ball?
  • What possibilities do balls have at different levels of advancement?
  • Can the ITF, using its rule-setting skills, keep the balls in play longer during the competition, resulting in fewer balls being used?
  • In Grand Slam tournaments, is it necessary to change balls after the first seven games and then every nine games thereafter? Can this be extended to 11 or 13 games?
  • Could this change of using fewer balls for longer be extended to all tennis events?

One question remains. How to use used tennis balls? The RecycleBalls organization came with the answer. The company distributes ball collection boxes to hundreds of tennis clubs, city parks, colleges and tournaments, where used balls can be sent to the organization’s warehouse. Some are sold as dog toys or for the underside of chairs. Others are sanded entirely with felt to be sold as a base for riding stables. Others are sent to a highly specialized, patent pending machine that strips the felt off the backing of the rubber. They milled it into granules of various sizes, which Laykold, a tennis court surfacing company, uses to produce the cushioning layer. RecycleBalls estimates that they will collect approximately three million used balls this year in the US and Canada alone.

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