Why are tennis balls fuzzy?

That’s pretty much what I’m wondering.

Maybe also why they are a neon yellow, but mostly why they are fuzzy.

There’s two advantages to having them fuzzy;

  1. It slows them down. You could slow them down somewhat by deflating them or making them softer, but then they wouldn’t bounce as true. By covering them in fuzz, you keep their speed down but they still bounce well.

  2. It’s easier to get a true bounce off the racquet. Smooth tennis balls would be more difficult for the player to control off the racquet; they’d tend to slide across the racquet strings, and getting a deliberate spin would be nearly impossible.

Tennis balls used to all be white. I’d guess they changed to that neon yellow for better visibility. Easier to see among all the white togs and other white objects around a court.

That’s correct. I read in Tennis recently that in some unexplained way, the standard yellow-green shade of tennis balls is the most immediately eye-catching color. And these days the pros are playing on blue courts for greater contrast.

What about raquetball, which uses smooth balls ([beavis]heh heh heh[/beavis])? As far as I can tell, the players can use english and ball control to a certain extent (maybe not as much as tennis?).

Smaller court, shorter shots. Racquetball (and squash) balls aren’t made to curve in flight the way tennis balls are.

The balls (huh huh huh) in those sports are also, as you probably know, squishier, especially the squash ball, which until you warm it up doesn’t want to bounce much at all. For obvious reasons you don’t want as much bounce when you’re playing in a little box as you can have on a bigger court. If they had the same bounce as a new tennis ball those sports would be unplayable.

The smooth, grippy surface of a racquetball is a good match for the smooth, clean surface of an indoor court. If you played that ball on a (typically) outdoor, cushioned tennis court, the ball would quickly get dusty, and it would lose its grippy nature.

The film I saw in driver’s education class said the most eye-catching color color was School bus yellow. It seems they were wrong:

Maybe the narrator meant to say Safety Orange:

Of course both these colors date from back in the days when we wore onions on our belts. Modern yellow-green tennis balls look fluorescent, which could increase their visibility over old timey yellow and orange.

There’s actually some interesting history concerning the ball used for racquetball. The game was invented by a doctor who thought that handball was a wonderful indoor court game, but didn’t like what it did to his hands. So, he tried using a racquet, and came up with a game combining the rules of handball and squash.

He had a problem with the ball, though. Hitting a handball with a racquet tended to put it in orbit. IIRC, he experimented with using tennis ball bladders. Eventually, he found a rubber ball with the right characteristics in a toy store. It was a child’s play ball, and he bought the store’s whole supply. It still wasn’t right when he ordered a special run of them from the manufacturer (they had been discontinued). It turned out that the ones he picked up in the toy store had been sitting in the bin a while and had gone flat. The brand new ones were too lively. Eventually, he set up his own company to manufacture the balls to the right specifications.

School bus yellow (which looks like orange to me, not yellow) certainly was originally picked in part because of its noticability, to be sure.

About ten years ago the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario did a study and found the best, most noticable color would actually be that sickening neon lime green color. However, they concluded it wasn’t a good idea to switch because the yellowy color of school buses is so well known now.

Tennis evolved from the earlier activity that was more social, less competitive
and played on grass than the game today. It wasn’t about power or speed.

Those attracted to the sport choose the type of ball that had the playing characteristics closer to why they had started playing in the first place. So fuzz became first the defacto then the official standard.