Roger Federer’s comment, during a recent trip to Chicago, that tennis balls ‘are yellow’ has added fuel to the raging fire over a never-ending debate that has followed the sport.
Popping the question
During a trip to Chicago to oversee preparations for the Laver Cup – Federer’s brainchild – to be held in September, the 36-year-old interacted with fans. That’s where a fan asked, “Hey Roger, are tennis balls green or yellow?” The fan’s daughter Delaney Dold captured the entire incident on video, as the Swiss maestro, initially caught off-guard, responded: “They’re yellow, right?” Then with more clarity: “They’re yellow, yeah!”
The reaction on twitter
A host of media outlets from around the world tweeted to Dold asking her permission to link the video to their respective online news channels.
In the comments, Dold mentioned that her boyfriend “was telling us about it and we saw the opportunity to ask so we took it!” And other affirmed their thoughts. One scribe penned: “Haha this is gold… or yellow.” Another offered a bit to both sides, posting a photograph of a new ball along with an older one. The explanation: “Tennis balls are yellow, but when you play with them and they become dirty and lose the fur, they become green, hence the confusion.”One just combined both: ‘Grellow.” Some justified it with other tennis concepts: “Why would you play on green grass with a green ball? Of course it’s yellow.” Meanwhile, tennis equipment manufacturing giants Wilson replied to a comment of a user saying he thought the balls are yellow with: “Very wise.”
What the expert says
So moved was The Atlantic magazine by the first inquiry in February, that they got Bevil Conway, a colour perception expert from the National Eye Institute in the US, to explain the root of the problem. “How we label (a tennis ball) is determined both by perceptual and cognitive factors: the actual physical light entering your eye and … knowledge about what people have typically labelled the objects. The reason colour is so compelling is that it is a computation of the brain, but one that is so good that we think it is an objective property of the world.”
In other words, you see it in the colour you want to see it in.
So what colour is it?
According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the balls are yellow. To be precise, American manufacturers Penn, who provided tennis balls to the recently concluded Indian Wells Masters, dub the balls Optic Yellow. Yellow balls have been used in the sport since 1972, when the ITF introduced the new colour to enhance visibility for viewers watching on television.
Evolution: White to yellow
Previously, tennis balls were white, and occasionally black depending on the court background. These could easily be spotted on black and white television sets. Once colour TV’s came into the market, the ITF began searching for upgrades for their tennis ball colours. Bright orange and neon pink balls were tested and considered before the ITF settled for optic yellow.
Football’s Winter Ball
European football leagues conduct matches using orange or mustard-yellow footballs in winter to avoid the ball colour to clash with possible snowfall. Interestingly, before the present-day white footballs, dark brown balls were used but became a problem to spot as it matched the muddy rain-drenched European pitches.
The idea of white footballs came up in England in 1927, but was immediately shot down, and it was only in 1951 that matches, though sporadically, started being played with white balls.