New balls, please: The numbers behind Roland Garros’ Wilson balls

news technical analysis Sep 28, 2020

By Joel Fruci with Marc Sophoulis

Day one of the French Open main draw has come and gone, but that’s all the time it took for the tournament’s unique conditions and fresh balls to become a hot topic; quite the contrast to the Parisian weather. 

A number of players expressed concerns about the Wilson balls before play kicked off, and those sentiments were echoed as the opening day’s play began to wind down. 

Rafael Nadal voiced his worries about the balls, suggesting their heaviness would not suit his famed clay court game. Young Italian Jannik Sinner also said the balls troubled him despite defeating 11th seed David Goffin in straight sets. 

Dan Evans slammed the state of the Roland Garros balls

At an extreme, Englishman Dan Evans slammed the Wilson balls after his five-set defeat against Kei Nishikori, describing them as unfit even to be a dog’s chew toy.

Roland Garros opted to use Wilson balls for 2020’s rescheduled tournament, thus ending a near decade-long relationship with previous supplier Babolat. It’s become clear that, coupled with the wintery weather, the new balls are slower than their predecessor. 

On Monday’s French Open Daily Show by The Tennis Menu, high performance coach Marc Sophoulis revealed a significant reduction in the Wilson ball speed, hinting they could favour big servers.   

“Speaking to a few people that are involved in the French Open at the minute, the data’s saying that the ball speed off the ground strokes at the moment is nine kilometres slower than it was last year,” he said. 

“That’s massive because … the serve, it won’t make a huge impact to, you’ve got total control of that play. If you lose nine kilometres and you’re John Isner and you’re already serving 230 kilometres, 221 isn’t bad.

“But if you’re a person off the ground that is hitting 100 kilometres an hour and you lose that nine kilometres, it can be the difference a little bit.

“Does it play into their (the big servers’) hands? I think it gives them a better chance … the game itself, the players don’t get to the balls as well. They don’t slide as far because the courts are stickier.”

Twelve-time Roland Garros champion Nadal declared this year’s edition as the most difficult yet as he guns for title number 13. 

Amid the rainy weather, Sophoulis added that the newly-installed Philippe Chatrier roof could prove critical in Nadal’s quest to continue his stranglehold on the clay court slam. 

“The difference between playing the indoor and the outdoor could be quite significant as well,” he said. 

“If you do have a roof over your head, the conditions do become slightly faster, a little bit humid. 

“Will that affect Rafael Nadal as much as we think it will? I think it may be a counter.”  

WATCH the full day one show below and SUBSCRIBE to The Tennis Menu on YouTube.