In sports it’s often said that officials and umpires have done a good job if they haven’t been noticed. No fan or participant wants questionable line calls or penalties—and those issuing them—to be major influences on the outcome. Which is pretty much the same way I feel about tennis balls. When I’m finished playing a match I know the balls have held up their end of the bargain if I haven’t given them a moment of thought. It’s when it prematurely fluffs up, balds, or even pops that a ball can make an impact. Players have enough to worry about with their own performance; they don’t need to single out which of the trio of balls is underperforming.
For something so critical to the sport, there rarely seems to be much in the way of ball innovation. Of course, that’s not true; manufacturers are constantly trying to improve the formula for better performance and longevity. However, there are the concerns of cost—both the raw materials and the price of the finished product—that have to be considered. Most players are fond of using new balls, and are just as fond of not having to pay more than a few bucks (at least in the U.S.) to get it. So there seems to be a status quo when it comes to tennis balls. It’s not often I’m using anything other than a model from Head/Penn, Wilson or Dunlop.
That’s what makes playing with something new, like the X-Ball, so intriguing. Originally formed in South Africa in 1997 with sales in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, the company is now a division of a not for profit employee-owned cooperative called Pennies for Reading in Reading, PA. Here are some particulars about the X-Ball:
- X-Ball Tour is ITF approved for competitive play.
- The felt is manufactured by Milliken, a U.S. company, and contains 58% wool fiber, which according to the company is the highest percentage in the industry.
- There’s also the X-Ball Air (pressure-less) and X-Ball Train (Quickstart balls) for practice purposes.
How does the ball play? I’ve only used it once, but the early returns were quite positive. On a damp, overcast day the balls avoided soaking up clay and becoming too heavy. The level of fluffing was totally acceptable, and the playability and response stayed fair and consistent even after extended play with some pretty lengthy rallies. But perhaps the best thing I can say about my two-hour playing session with the X-Ball Tour is, when it was over, my partner and I didn’t even notice them.