Real tennis ball
Real tennis ball 2005
Diameter 62-65 mm
Weight 71-78 g
Though it may seem paradoxical to conclude our trawl through the old balls of Britain with one made in 2005, we are concerned here not with the ball as such, but with its place in history.
Before we learnt how, during the 16th century, the art of making tennis balls had to adapt to suit the game’s transition from a form of handball to a racket sport. In essence, there have been few changes since. True, the materials have been updated, for example the use of Optic Yellow Melton covers for extra visibility. Otherwise, the French authority, Francois de Garsault – author of a definitive guide to ballmaking in 1767 – would recognise instantly the methods, and even the tools used in any one of the 23 real tennis clubs in Britain today. Not only that, he would also note, perhaps with some sympathy, that, as in his era, the person responsible for making the balls is the club professional.
In no other sport are senior players so put upon.
At Hampton Court, where the tennis court dates from 1626, the profesional, Chris Ronaldson, used cork fragments for the core of his balls,though others use rangs. First he wraps the cork in bits of used Melton, forming a tight ball, tied with mattress twine. He then pounds this core with a hammer, wraps it a second time in cotton webbing, before tying the whole in more twine, and pounding it again in a metal ball-cup to create the required size. Two strips of new Melton are then tacked on and theirseams hand-sewn for the final ball.
Each ball takes 40 minutes to make from scratch, or 20 if a used core is recycled. To meet demand, Ronaldson and his two assistands need to make 6-8 balls a day. It is arduous work.
Of course machine -made alternatives have been tried. But while in other arenas we hear the cry go up, ‘New balls please’, in real tennis, it would seem, the oldest balls in sport still do just fine.