Female tennis players raise their voices to stop playing the US Open with balls that are less heavy than men’s

BarcelonaWhile on the secondary courts some of the favorites in the men’s draw were making their US Open debuts – and one of them, the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, surprisingly lost to the Colombian Daniel Galán –, on the Arthur Ashe center court all the honors were for Serena Williams. At 40, the player who has won the most Grand Slam titles in the professional era is playing the tournament for the last time. Every game he plays could be his last, so center court was packed with personalities: Bill Clinton, Queen Latifah, Martina Navratilova, Mike Tyson, Matt Damon, Lindsey Vonn and, of course, who never misses a sporting event in the city, the film director Spike Lee. All, willing and able, will return on Wednesday to watch Williams’ second-round match as the veteran champion defeated Montenegrin Danka Kovinic in straight sets (6-3, 6-3). Now it will be her turn to face the Estonian Anett Kontaveit, number two in the draw. A demanding duel for the Queen of Queens, as she has been introduced to be the queen of the tournament based in the borough of Queens.

Williams, with her daughter in the stands copying the hairstyle she wore 25 years ago when she debuted on the circuit, with braids, has managed to extend the dream in a match where few people have noticed the other big protagonist of the tournament female: the balls. The US Open remains the last major tournament where women play with slightly lighter balls than men. “It would be time to change it, it’s a bit insulting. It seems as if there are still people who think we can’t pass the ball to the other side of the net,” complained Serbian player Aleksandra Krunić.

There is a second reason, however, to change them, beyond weight: they are difficult to control. The world number 1, the Polish Iga Swiatek, is leading the campaign to start playing with the same balls as the men, with the support of colleagues on the circuit such as the Catalan Paula Badosa. “They are impossible to control. They are balls designed for matches on clay and here it is played on a hard court,” explains the player from Begur. “We have fast tracks with balls that are very difficult to control. So we have more mistakes. And then people complain if there is less tactics and intelligence in the points,” he added in a message on social networks.

Same size, different weight

“I don’t see the point. They give us balls that fly in an absurd way. They are much more difficult to control. Also, we spend the season playing with other balls, it’s hard to adapt. Tennis has changed, it’s not like 10 years ago, when only some player like Serena Williams had a very fast game. It’s not slow tennis anymore, now we’re more physically prepared, we can play with heavier balls,” argues Swiatek, who complains that now one year he already demanded a change of balls from the tournament organizers. They ignored him. “It causes us to make more mistakes. I don’t know what fun it is to see more mistakes. They say 15 years ago women had problems with elbow injuries if they played with the same balls, that there were injuries and that’s why it changed. But as we are physically prepared now…”, adds the Pole, who remembers that, as these are balls that are rarely and always used in the United States, it is very difficult to get them to train with in Europe the days before the tournament.

The custom of differentiating the balls was born at the beginning of the 80s, when some players complained because they suffered injuries to the arm, shoulder or elbow. It was then that most tournaments began using lighter balls for women, a practice that has been gradually abandoned by all major tournaments in recent years, with the exception of the US Open . The balls, from the Wilson brand, are exactly the same size for men and women. The only difference is the leather cover, thicker in the case of the men’s tournament, which means that the women’s are lighter, but also “softer”: “They are like a toy, they are difficult to control”, complains American Madison Keys. The sociologist Laura Hills, from Brunel University, explained these days to the press of the United States: “It is not just a matter of the game. Every element that reinforces the idea that women’s tennis is belittled affects. The players have been living with a system where there is an abysmal difference in salaries and sponsorships, between men and women. With derogatory comments, with ridicule. That these balls are still allowed to be played with means that there are people in decision-making power who still believe that women do not have strong enough.”



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