“The introduction of new elastomers and plastics has had a profound influence on many sports. New materials cannot be used indiscriminately; however, attention must be paid to specifications, rules and regulations governing the various sports and games.”
—Robert Haines, “The Sporting use of polymers,” Shell Petrochemicals, 1993.
AKRON—When I began to examine the manufacturing of a tennis ball, I wanted to understand the history behind it. I thought I would understand the present more if I could understand the past, but I failed to recognize the big difference between the sporting arena and other sectors of the rubber and plastics industry.
Technology allows us to create more efficient and better products, within regulations of safety. However, with sports, the regulation involves keeping so much the same. If a record were broken because of a more efficient tennis ball, is that player really better than one from past generations?
How do you make it fair? You have a regulating body—in this case, the International Tennis Federation—that keeps everything organized and efficient in the tennis world.
When starting my research, I reached out to the ITF to see if I could use the manufacturing process information on its website —ITFTennis.com—and the organization did me one better: it put me in contact with the man who wrote it.
Robert Haines, now retired, started his career on the technical side of tennis ball manufacturing in 1963, where he worked for Dunlop, which took over Slazenger in 1958. He continued there until 1992, then became a technical consultant to the ITF at its headquarters in London. He is now retired from consulting, but he still took the time to exchange multiple emails with me and send some great articles he has written over the years on the subject. I could have not asked for a better technical look of the history of the tennis ball.
Haines gave me so much information that I could write four blog entries, but I am going to break it down into some highlights. If you want a detailed explanation of the different stages of tennis ball manufacturing, click here.