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‘You just started a war’: Iga Swiatek gets into a fight for US Open balls | US Open Tennis 2022

“EITHERMy God,” a smiling Iga Swiatek said during a news conference at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. A question had struck a nerve and for a split second she deliberated between speaking or biting her tongue. She chose to respond with all her strength.

The topic was, on the surface, mundane: if you liked Wilson US Open tennis balls. But he was loaded with subtext. The US Open is the only Grand Slam tournament that offers different balls for male and female players. While the men use the Wilson US Open Extra Service Balls, the women use the Wilson US Open Regular Service Balls, which are wrapped in a thinner, less fluffy felt covering, leading to a ball faster and more aerodynamic, and consternation among some players.

“I think those balls are horrible,” Swiatek said bluntly. “Especially after three games of really hard play, they are getting lighter and lighter. In the end you can’t even serve at 170 kilometers per hour because you know it’s going to fly like crazy. Yeah, I think they’re pretty bad. I am sorry.”

Among his long list of problems with the balls, Swiatek argued that they led to increased errors and a less impressive product: “Right now we play hard and we can’t let go of our hands with these balls. I know there are a lot of players who complain, and a lot of them are in the top 10. We make more mistakes, for sure. So I don’t think it’s really nice to watch.”

As he left the press conference room, Swiatek turned to his audience and smiled sheepishly: “You just started a war.”

His parting words were precious, as this has become one of the dominant themes in the build-up to this year’s US Open, underlining a perceived double standard between men’s and women’s tennis. A public debate ensued. In January, Ash Barty’s trainer, Craig Tyzzer, said that he would never win the US Open with these balls. At the same time, he referenced the recent surprise tournament results four months after Emma Raducanu’s surprise title run. “There’s no surprise when the ball is the way it is,” he said.

During her practice week in New York, World No.4 Paula Badosa expressed her disapproval by posting a photo on Instagram of the two different cans of balls, the regular service balls described as “great for clay or covered surfaces”. . The US Open is played on outdoor hard courts.

Jessica Pegula, the US No. 1, thinks they make more mistakes: “I feel like the first two weeks there are a lot of double faults, because the balls fly a little bit more,” she said.

In a statement, a USTA spokesperson said they provide balls based on the recommendation of the tours and their player councils: “Various factors are considered in these decisions, and the USTA will continue to follow the recommendations of the tours and their player councils. to determine which balls are used during the US Open.

Historically, the WTA’s recommendation of regular service balls has been based on the belief that they put less stress on the arms. Swiatek noted that the players mostly complain to each other. A clear obstacle to any kind of change in an individual sport played between competitors with different playing styles and backgrounds is that preferences vary dramatically. For all the players who hate balls, there are many who love them.

US No. 1 Jessica Pegula thinks the balls women play with lead to more mistakes Photographer: Robert Prange/Getty Images

“It’s my favorite ball,” Madison Keys said, smiling. Keys explained that the constant speed of the balls suits him. Petra Kvitova, who reached the final in Cincinnati, who also uses the balls, struck a similar note. “I love her,” she said, describing her tendency to fly as a virtue. As two of the greatest hitters the sport has seen, they both enjoy having the ball imbue their flat, destructive strike with even more pace.

Several ATP players, including Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev, weren’t even aware of the specific differences between the two balls, but others have played with both. “I can serve 150 miles an hour with the girls’ balls,” said Taylor Fritz, the US Men’s No. 1. “They fly a little bit more, they’re a little bit lighter.”

But Fritz offered a unique perspective of his own. He thinks the US Open men’s balls are too heavy. “Whenever I use the ATP or Dunlop balls that we use most of the year, and then switch to the men’s Wilson balls, they are heavy. It doesn’t feel good on my arm, so I can’t really imagine how it would feel for the players as well.”

Pegula, however, has no problem with the men’s balls: “I play with them when I’m home or when I can’t find any balls,” she said, shrugging. “They just don’t fly as much.”

When he was younger, Fritz played mixed doubles in New York, another problematic aspect of contrasting balls. Mixed doubles competition uses the regular balls at the US Open, meaning those playing men’s and mixed doubles must switch between different balls in the same tournament. One of the few things that the vast majority of professional tennis players agree on is that constantly playing with different balls increases the risk of injury.

The lingering question is whether this high-profile public criticism will lead to any change. A likely protagonist is Pegula, a member of the WTA players’ council who now includes it on her agenda. “Personally I’m not a big fan. I don’t see why we couldn’t switch to extra work. But that’s easier said than done, so hopefully the player council can work on that,” she said.

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