How to make a tennis ball: a video by Benedict Redgrove

Guess how many balls are used at Wimbledon every year. According to Wimbledon Debenture Holders, it’s over 54,000. That’s one ball for every seat in Nou Mestalla in Valencia with a few left over. But what goes into making them?

London-based graphic designer Benedict Redgrove was commissioned by ESPN for Wilson to show how tennis balls are made for the US Open in 2016. He flew to the factory, shot everything in one day, then flew home (as you do). Redgrove elaborated on the experience:

Its an amazingly complex manufacture, requiring 24 different processes to make the final ball. It was hot, loud and the people who worked there, worked fast. So much beauty in each stage.

The video offers no dialogue so you’ll be probably have some questions about some of the processes. Allow me to answer some:

What are tennis balls made of?

As you might guess from the video, tennis balls are made of rubber and covered in wool or nylon. The balls are hollow but to ensure they bounce, pressurised air goes inside them.

Are all tennis balls the same for every tournament?

Yes, because there are three main surfaces in tennis (hard, clay, and grass, although some ATP Challenger tournaments and one WTA tournament uses carpet). Different surfaces affect how the ball bounces and moves so they are adjusted accordingly. The cloth is also altered to cater for each surface, eg. more durable for clay and grass due to the grit and particles that can cut into the material.

What colour is a tennis ball?

According to the ITF, yellow and white are the only permitted colours. The most common colour is a fluorescent yellow known as “optic yellow”. You might see blue or orange balls used recreationally, particularly for younger children.

What happens to those 54,000 tennis balls when Wimbledon is over?

Used balls are sold at the All England Tennis Club and money raised goes to charity. In 2001, 350 balls were donated to the Wildlife Trust and became little homes for harvest mice.

The bad news is around 325 million balls are produced every year and because they’re made of rubber, they don’t biodegrade very easily. In fact, about 20,000 tonnes of rubber goes to waste from them (that’s almost twice the weight of the Eiffel Tower). But a company called Advanced Polymer Technology (APT) helped create the first-ever “cushion court” using up to 10,000 recycled tennis balls.

This video was for US Open tennis balls. How many are made for that tournament?

Much more. In 2015, 98,000 balls were made for the tournament in New York in a Chinese factory. ESPN wrote an accompanying article for the video about the 24 processes.

That’s enough chat. Stream the video below.

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