In profile: The HEAD ATP Ball
Originally published on: 07/11/13 00:00
All eyes are on the players at London’s ATP World Tour Finals this week. Questions concerning their fitness, durability, technique and will to win after a gruelling tour continue to bombard the tennis world’s elite eight.
But what are the players actually hitting to each other over the net? Say hello to the HEAD ATP Ball, the ball the players are hitting at dangerously fast speeds on the O2 court. It appears perfectly suited for the hard surface and bright lights of London’s iconic arena.
Its SmartOptik felt provides 19% greater visibility and Encore Technology limits ball softening, so Novak Djokovic and co. get maximum visibility and feel.
The HEAD ATP Ball is the choice of many pros in the Davis Cup and this latter stage of the season, as it’s used on the hard courts in London’s showpiece, meaning players are always keen to grow accustomed to it during build-up events such as the Paris Masters.
Choice of ball can make the difference between success and failure at the top of the sport, for there is leeway in the parameters of bounce height, angle and racquet feel the ITF set, meaning some balls are faster and more controllable than others.
So where does the HEAD ATP Ball sit in these parameters? According to HEAD’s Racketsports Category Manager Andy Catchpole, the ball at the O2 is perfectly equipped for the Tour’s showpiece event.
“We’re probably in the middle-to-quick category,” he said. “If you ask the players they might have a different idea on it. It’s like racing cars and tyres, every driver at the top level has a different opinion on what the equipment does.
“You’re talking very small differences,” he added. “When you think faster it really is minuscule – but to the players it’s more noticeable while to mere mortals it’s difficult to spot the difference.”
So, at the top of the game small differences in bounce, durability and spin have an impact on a player’s performance. That is why the likes of Andy Murray and Djokovic train so extensively with balls leading up a to competition. Yet over the years ball manufacturers have focused solely on one thing: consistency.
“Tennis balls have become a lot more consistent,” Andy said. “At the end of the day they’re still round and bounce and have felt on the outside, but tennis ball technology has brought on a greater degree of consistency.
“Hitting balls regularly is the only way to test them. You can test them in a lab and get so much information on deformity and bounce but it won’t tell you how the ball actually feels.
“With the amount and variety of spin coming from players on the ATP Tour, different things are impacted upon the ball. So the only way to thoroughly test for the basics is to hit it.”
HEAD are this week celebrating their 20th anniversary as partners of the ATP, a relationship that has witnessed some great champions winning the end-of-season event.
In their first season as ball suppliers in 1993, Michael Stich beat Pete Sampras in Frankfurt for the German’s sole ATP year-end title. Sampras would go on to win four of five Finals with the HEAD ball, which has also witnessed the likes of Boris Becker, Lleyton Hewitt, Roger Federer and Djokovic winning the tournament.
And, as far as Andy is concerned, there is plenty to celebrate about the season finale, which has been held in London since 2009.
“The players appreciate it and they back the ATP,” he said. “Tennis has never been healthier – you’ve got four or five guys at the top of the game beating each other. Different people are wining grand slams and it’s not one person dominating, it’s a very interesting time for tennis at the moment.”