“New balls please”: Tennis, technology, and the changing game


Abstract
The decision of the International Tennis Federation (July, 1999) to approve trials of different ball types represented a clear admission of the need for tennis to adapt to the enhanced competence of elite athletes. However, such action brings into question to what extent tennis is evolving beyond its modern appearance and how far such change is desirable. Over the last 30 years, advanced technology and athletic capability has resulted in male players having outgrown the structure of the game, which can be seen as having promoted the ITF’s reaction. The need to ensure that tennis remains a challenging game for players at all levels and an exciting game for spectators appears to reflect an interest and concern for the practicecommunity of the sport. However, it is problematic to conclude that such changes are in the interests of all concerned. This article argues that any such changes to the structure of the game must be preceded with some admission about what future is sought for tennis and thus, where limits might be drawn on the changes made within the game. Furthermore, it is recognised that by invoking the ‘new balls’ proposal, a clear statement is made about what aspects of the game are considered worthy to preserve or not. This article addresses the implications of technological change for tennis, identifying upon what basis such change should take place to ensure a credible future for tennis.
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