The French Open’s New Balls

Much has been made over the new balls at Roland Garros this year–players have complained that they are lighter, heavier, that they bounce differently.  As far as bounce and spin is concerned, there isn’t much we can glean from the available data.  But we can take a broad look at server dominance to get a sense of how the French is playing this year.

Several months ago, I looked at most of the ATP-level matches from 2010, and determined that the server wins points on different surfaces at the following rates:

  • Clay: 61.5%
  • Hard: 63.7%
  • Grass: 65.9%

The gaps between those numbers may not look very big, but they represent a major indicator in the differences between surfaces.  If the gap between clay and hard is 2.2%, then 2.2% must be a pretty big deal!

I’ve also determined the following regarding ace rates–again, using 2010 data.  “Ace rate” is simply the percentage of serves that are aces:

  • Clay: 5.5%
  • Hard: 8.5%
  • Grass: 10.5%

Now that’s a big difference.

Roland Garros

What about the French?  Taking the 2010 event as a whole, players won 62.4% of service points, and served aces 6.6% of the time.  Thus, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the courts at RG last year played faster than most other clay-court ATP events.  Weather and–you guessed it–other equipment, such as balls, can also make a difference.

This year, 112 of the 127 men’s matches have already been played, including over 17,000 points, so I think it’s safe to start drawing conclusions.  This year, servers are only winning 62.0% of points–roughly halfway between the clay-court average and the results from last year’s “fast” RG.  More dramatically, players are only scoring aces on 5.6% of points, well below last year’s figure at the French.

I can’t shed any light on the specific quirks shown by the new balls, but for whatever reason, the French is playing more like an average clay-court event than it did last year.

4 thoughts on “The French Open’s New Balls”

  1. One problem with this analysis is that many of the non-clay court specialists and hence good servers skip all of the clay court events and then just show up for RGarros.

  2. Sorry, I am referring to the part about last year’s RG playing faster. I agree with your analysis concerning the new balls.

  3. Last year guys who hit aces went further. Like Isner. Not everyone of course but on average I would guess?

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