Clay court tennis is actually one of the world’s most popular surfaces. While we see a lot more clay-court action in the summer months in colder climates, we see clay courts spread even throughout the South of the U.S. There are so many wonderful advantages of clay court tennis for the game itself and for the body. Despite slipping around, it actually does a lot less damage to your overall health and is easier on your joints.
It also plays the game quite differently, which is why using a specific ball is important. While, of course, you can use any balls for clay court, brands have almost made tailored balls to make the game a lot better. That’s why there is a specific ball used for tournaments such as Roland Garros. This is no different from a specific ball used for Wimbledon or even the hardcourt tournaments like the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
So, let’s talk about what makes a good clay court tennis ball and why you need them. Then we will offer the best clay-court balls on the market right now!
Table of Contents
- 1 In a Hurry? Here’s Our Top Picks…
- 2 What makes a good clay court ball?
- 3 Advantages of Using a Clay Court Tailored Ball
- 4 Disadvantages of Using Balls Not Designed with Clay Courts in Mind
- 5 Top 5 Clay Court Tennis Balls
- 6 FAQ
- 7 Conclusion
In a Hurry? Here’s Our Top Picks…
|Top||DUNLOP ATP Premium Regular Duty Tennis Balls||Buy Now|
|Top Top||Wilson US Open RD Tennis Ball||Buy Now|
|Top||Penn Championship Tennis Balls - Extra Duty Felt||Buy Now|
What makes a good clay court ball?
There are several factors that make a tennis ball great for the clay surface. Some of them are more obvious factors like durability and life span. However, most people also don’t think about things like how visible the ball is and how much the ball absorbs. This all has a tremendous impact on the way the ball plays and even on your body. Having a high-quality performance clay court ball is important. It could be just one reason why your game may suddenly be feeling off.
Durability is something that all tennis balls should have in quality. There is nothing more frustrating than when you buy a can of balls, and within a few hours of use, they have gotten all fuzzy and start to feel dead. You want a durable ball that holds its tight weave of fuzz together. This makes the bounce a lot more reliable and comes up to the right height.
Durability is specifically important when it comes to clay because even though technically the surface is softer than gritty hard court, it still has an easy capability to wear down the fuzz. This is because the clay has a gritty texture itself and eats away at the outer surface.
Life span is a direct effect of your durability. You want the ball to be able to last over multiple hits, especially if it runs on the more expensive side. While not all balls last a long-time good quality, one should. A life span for a clay court ball also will be different from other surfaces because of how it wears away the outer layer.
Something that often confuses people is that some balls that feel great only last a few hits. This is possible. This is where it can trip people up because you could have a ball that lasts longer but is not a great ball for hitting. Life span and durability are just two factors that need to work with other factors to make it an all-around good clay court ball. Some clay court balls will excel dramatically in one category, such as life span, and fail in others. This doesn’t make it an all-around great ball. It just might be great for life span or great for feel.
Visibility is something that you really want to consider when playing with clay-court balls. What does visibility even mean? Visibility is how well you can see the ball. Have you ever played against an opponent, and when they serve the ball, you lose it in the trees or background? Yup, we all have, which is why the visibility of the actual ball plays a huge role in general. The visibility of the ball is affected by the ball’s brightness and color. The brighter the ball is, the easier it is for players to see it when it goes against more difficult backgrounds.
This is especially true when we are concerning playing clay-court tennis. Why? Because the ball gets dirty from the clay and naturally absorbs the color of the clay. If it is red, the ball will shirt to turn red, and if it’s green clay, the ball will become a darker greyish color. This is why it is incredibly important to have a bright ball that is great visibility for clay-court players. But also, the visibility has to do with the absorption of the ball as well, which is why this is our next important quality.
Absorption, as we already noted as a big part of whether someone can easily identify and see the ball. Because we know tennis is a speedy game, even losing the ball for just a second can make a major impact on a point. That’s why you don’t want your ball to absorb much of the clay at all, if possible. But there are other reasons why abortion is not a great thing for clay-court tennis.
A ball that absorbs too much will get weighed down very easily. When the clay gets stuck to the ball, then the ball becomes less accurate, and the bounce starts to get lower and lower. And considering clay already usually has a low bounce, this isn’t great. But clay isn’t the only thing that can get absorbed. Usually, clay courts have some sort of moisture and wetness in them to keep them functioning the way they should. Super dry clay doesn’t work. That’s means that the ball is also absorbing some water which will way the ball down very quickly and then pick up even more clay. When you are choosing a clay court ball, you want something that doesn’t allow the clay to stick to itself and has water-resistant properties at risk of ruining the ball.
Advantages of Using a Clay Court Tailored Ball
So, with that in mind, what are the advantages of playing with a clay court specialized ball. Now not all balls are designed for clay court use only. They are designed with clay courts in mind but can also make a great option for the hardcourt as well. So, let’s talk about the advantages you get specifically when you work with a ball designed with clay court tennis in mind.
A true bounce is so important. This is especially true if you are dealing with some yucky bounces from clay courts. A true bounce comes from having a ball that is not weighed down because it has a high abortion capability. It’s almost as if the ball is not even playing on the clay court at all. When you have balls that are not designed with clay in mind, you may find that they lose their bounce very quickly or that they may spin out not as exactly as you planned it normally would.
Just like absorption affects how the ball bounces, it also affects how you hit the ball. The ball would, in theory, come off the strings differently if you had blobs of clay on the ball or even if it was wet in some areas. It could cause a dampened swing and even something as unfortunate as a tennis elbow. This is because it would be similar to playing with something like a dead ball.
Saves Your Strings
Clay naturally wears down on the strings a little faster than hard court. This is because the clay grinds into the strings a bit faster than just the ball being hit with it. When you have a ball that doesn’t pack as much clay onto it, then you, in turn, won’t have to worry about as much clay rubbing off onto your string set and breaking them all the time.
If the ball itself lasts a while, then you certainly will save some money and trouble. Clay court balls can get beat up very quickly because of the grittiness, and once they start to get dirty, they automatically start to lose their spunk. That’s why it is important to pick a ball that holds on a little longer than some of their competitors because it can add up very quickly.
Disadvantages of Using Balls Not Designed with Clay Courts in Mind
While it is never the end of the world to use balls that aren’t meant for clay court (hey, sometimes we are in a pinch), some disadvantages come with that. Sometimes only a professional may know the difference, but in other cases, even novices can feel like something is off. They just don’t always know it is the balls.
Money Money Money
A clay court ball may cost you a little more, but in the long run, if it holds up, then this is worth it. If you are constantly breaking strings and replacing cheap balls at twice the rate that are with a good quality ball. It sure will be worth it to invest in using a good quality ball made for the game you are trying to play. This is sadly the disadvantage of using a ball that was designed for a different surface.
Possible Body Issues
We mentioned briefly that it’s not uncommon to pick up tennis elbow when you are using the wrong equipment. We also talked about how clay courts actually are great for the body and do a lot less damage to the joints and bones. But all that is counterproductive if you are using a ball that is dead and weighed down. This is the fastest way to injure your wrist, elbow, or shoulder and develop chronic information. Eventually, with a few doctor visits and some braces, this too ends up being more money than you would pay if you just invest in the right ball in the first place.
Not So Much Fun
Say you don’t end up spending a lot of money, and you get lucky with not breaking your strings, and you are injury-free. That last disadvantage is that you may be getting some bad quality bounces and not a true game. Tennis is hard enough as it is, and adding elements that make it harder is not ideal. A good ball will give you a good bounce and a true resemblance to a real point. This may just be a stickler point, but those who are passionate and can tell the difference certainly will.
Top 5 Clay Court Tennis Balls
So now that we understand what qualities make up an excellent tennis ball and what to expect if you do use one, or worse, don’t use one, we can now talk about the actual balls. While no ball out there is perfect, these are some of the best balls you can use on the clay court to take advantage of all the factors listed above.
None of these balls score perfectly in every category, but they all around meet the criteria and are used by the governing bodies of professional tennis in professional tournaments. This includes Roland Garros, so I guess if it’s good enough for them, then it is good enough for us.
1. Babolat French Open Regular Duty
This may not be the ball that is easiest to order for Americans because Babolat is a France-based company. They are the official ball supplier of Roland Garros or the French Open and make one of the best quality clay court balls out there. There are a few surprising factors here when it comes to the ball. The first is that players love that it retains a true bounce even after playing with it for hours. However, the ball gets very dirty quickly and is not the brightest option on the market. This makes seeing it very difficult and is a real issue to consider.
But its livelihood and durability are one of the things that win everyone over. It’s not common to see a ball retain its bounce even when hit by the hardest-hitting pros in the world. But some home how it does.
Of course, this all comes at a cost.
- One of the highest quality balls on the market
- Stays true to its performance even hours after consistent use
- The official ball of The French Open
- Very expensive
- Poor visibility after a quick use
2. U.S Open Wilson Regular Duty
Before saying, “what, I am confused,” let us explain. Even though this is the U.S. Open official ball for hard court season, it is a great option for clay court for so many different reasons. The reason being is that they have a secret sauce for durability. Their weapon is called Tex Tech Felt, and it’s for keeping the ball durable during hard court season. It also happens to keep the ball very durable when it concerns clay-court tennis as well. Durability being one of the top qualities, this ball certainly hits it.
Something that it doesn’t do as well, especially in comparison to our number one Roland Garros ball, retains its livelihood. Players often report that on clay, it loses its bounce quickly, and as we know, this results in a whole array of problems. Their other issue? Visibility as these balls tends to absorb the color a bit more than some other options. However, with its good price and durability, many still think it’s worth it.
- Great bounce with initial use
- Affordable option
- Durable tech incorporated into their felt
- Hard to see after a few uses
- Loses its bounce quicker than other options
3. Penn ATP Tour Regular Duty
Penn is one of the household names in the world with Wilson when it comes to the tennis industry. They also make a few great options when it comes to tennis balls. Regarding their clay court option, their Penn ATP Tour Regular Duty is a fan favorite. They also have a secret tech in their felt, but they refer to it as Optik Felt Technology, and it serves two main functions. The first is to provide a brighter ball which is important as it’s the first one on our list that does get a good rep for visibility. The second is to actually make the ball long-lasting—two qualities we haven’t seen together yet.
While Penn is normally known for being a more affordable option, these cans, unfortunately, are not. The other downside is that they come out of the can, popping very strong but can lose their bounce after some time. However, not as much as the previous Wilson. This ball, while third on our list, is a great option.
- A great visible ball that resists getting dirty and cloudy
- A longer lasting option due to its technology
- More expensive than some competitors
- Can lose bounce after a few sessions
4. Dunlop ATP Regular Duty
Dunlop is a brand that most tennis players will likely know. However, they certainly are not as recognizable as Wilson and Penn. They do, however, make a great ball. European companies, in general, make great balls because they are more exposed to the clay-court game than Americans are. Dunlop falls into this category by offering something unique. A tighter wound ball that sometimes feels a little smaller and a little lighter than some of its competitors. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is very dependent on the type of player. In terms of clay, it remains a durable option.
It also has a very true bounce, even on clay which sometimes is a priority for avid players. So, for a great cost and long-lasting durability, what more could one want? While the negatives and pros are a lot different than other balls, this becomes a much more personal preference.
- Offers great feel power and control with an accurate bounce
- Is a long-lasting and durable option
- A great affordable price
- Plays pretty different compared to other options which may not be liked among certain players
- Plays quicker than some players like to consider clay court surface is meant to offer a slower game
5. Penn Championship Extra Duty
Penn makes the list twice because they do offer some of the best clay-court ball options on the market. The Penn Championship Extra Duty is slightly different from our previous option in a few different ways. Let’s break that down. Similar to the Wilson, it is actually designed for a hardcourt ball, given its extra duty qualities. However, it works just as well on clay giving it more life and long-lasting durability, making it an excellent option.
The Extra Duty part comes from the wool fibers being interlocked with each other, which is why you won’t see the ball fuzz up, slow down, and attract a lot of clay into its felt. This is key for not aborting the materials and causing all the unwanted issues we mentioned. If there was a drawback, it would be again that these balls are expensive, and that’s because they are Championship balls and are made to play like the pros. They may also play a bit faster than some like because of the way that they are tightly wound.
- Great durability and ability to last over multiple hits
- Suited for both hard court and clay court
- Good visibility
- Does not absorb the clay like competitors
- A more expensive option on the market
- Plays a little quicker than some would like
Now that we have our top choice when it comes to balls and we understand what makes them such a good option, we should answer some of the most frequently asked questions. This may concern things like clay court balls and ball machines and switching between surfaces since we know that some balls are made for both. Here we will address all those concerns!
Can clay court balls be used on hard courts too?
Several balls on this list were actually designed with hard courts in mind. That said, it’s not always the best idea to bring your hardcourt balls to the clay courts then try to use them again for hard courts later. While it is possible several unappealing things will happen.
1) The first thing that you won’t love is bringing the clay balls back onto the hardcourt. The reason being is that no matter how great your balls are, they absorb clay and will leave a lot of clay on the hardcourt. This is a hazard to you because it does get very slippery. It also can ruin the hard courts by wearing away at them.
2) The second thing to consider is that the clay changes the ball. What once may have been quick now will be slow. This can result in an untrue representation of hardcourt tennis and also contribute to things like tennis elbow or shoulder issues.
While there are many more reasons that it just doesn’t work as well as you would like, these are the most important factors considered. Of course, if you are in a pinch, you can always try to hit some of the clay off outside the court and then bring a few in.
Can clay court balls go into a ball machine?
You can use a clay court ball in the ball machine as long as the machine doesn’t have any warnings about it. Sometimes the dirt and debris from the balls and courts could ruin the machines, but in most cases, tennis ball machines are made with this in mind. It’s not a bad idea to change out the balls often to keep as much debris out as possible.
What is the life span of a good clay court tennis ball?
With consistent use, you should be able to get about two solid weeks out of your clay-court balls. This is hitting with them every day. The two things you fight against are the wear and tear from the ground and, of course, just time in general. Air pressure and weather play a significant factor in whether your balls retain their bounce or now. Though if you are using balls on clay courts, it is likely that the weather is pretty good.
Clay court tennis is a lot of fun. It’s just not as much fun if the balls are doing the job you think they would do. This, of course, can be affected by a variety of factors like how much clay stays on the ball, how well you can see the ball, and whether it retains its bounce and durability. Surprisingly while some cans are made with clay court in mind, other top contenders were made for hard court but are a suitable option for clay-court tennis. These are balls like your U.S. Open and Penn Extra Duty.
Unfortunately, the balls that work best for clay court tennis are always going to be the more expensive balls. That’s because they need to be made with durability and quality at the forefront. This leads to the balls being almost always championship level or pro level. When you work with balls that are not quality on clay, not only can it be a major flop to your bank account, but it can also lead to risky things like injury in your arm, wrist, or tennis elbow.
Even though clay court tennis balls are quite an investment, they are great to play with. You can even use them in most tennis ball machines and practice on your own. Just remember not to bring them onto the hardcourt. Some may think it’s not a big deal but what actually happens is you make the court a lot more slippery and actually break down the hardcourt. This may be OK in a pinch, but generally speaking, it’s not a great idea. Your ball should generally last you about two weeks if you are an avid player.