I have seen many times, while serving, when a tennis player gets a ball, he/she keeps one ball in their pocket or skirt and serves with the other ball.

Why do they keep an extra ball in their pocket/skirt?

Cant they take another ball from a ball person after they commit a service fault?


A tennis player is allowed to serve two times. If your first attempt (serve) results in a fault, the player is allowed a second attempt. When you commit a fault, in many, if not all competitions, you are discouraged to go and retrieve the ball that resulted in your fault. This would cluster the job of the the ball-boys on the court who's job is to collect dead balls.

Also according to Rule 20 (Second Service) in the ITF Rules of Tennis it states;

If the first service is a fault, the server shall serve again without delay from behind the same half of the court from which that fault was served, unless the service was from the wrong half.

I would think that if a player would take time to go and retrieve the ball, this would most likely cause a minor delay.

So a player has two options.

  1. The first option is to request another ball from a ball-boy who is located on the side of the court. Very few players do this because it results in loss of concentration and with some players it changes their rhythm.

  2. The most common option is for a player to request two or three balls before he/she serves.

    • If the player requests two balls, he/she uses one to serve and uses the other in the case of a fault.

    • If the player requests three or more balls, this is when you will see the player examine all three and then toss one or more of the balls back to a ball-girl/boy. What the player is doing in this situation is getting rid of the worst ball out of the three, keeping the best ball for the first serve and the extra ball in the case of a fault.

  • 2
    But isn't having a tennis ball in your pocket an uncomfortable distraction? Or is this just something that tennis players must get used to?!
    – MrWhite
    Sep 11 '12 at 17:37
  • 10
    They put an extra in their pocket because of exactly what you said, they are used to it. When you practice alone on empty courts your whole life to get to the pros, you get used to having extras in your pocket because you never had the privilege to have your own ball-boy while practicing.
    – Zack
    Sep 11 '12 at 18:07
  • 3
    Do you have any references available to your claim of "you cannot go and retrieve [the] ball that result[ed] in your fault" ? I don't think there's actually any official rule against serving that same ball if it were to roll back to you. In fact, I've seen players do this plenty of times, just not very often in professional matches.
    – jamauss
    Sep 11 '12 at 21:46
  • 1
    After some research, I found that if you really wanted to go out of your way and grab the ball, you can. But it's highly discouraged because it would interfere with the ball-boy's job and the pace of the match. I edited my answer to reflect these findings. I apologize for the initial incorrect statement.
    – Zack
    Sep 12 '12 at 13:14
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    Added a source and some clarity. If you have any more comments, lets discuss it in chat. chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/2433/the-clubhouse I'd hate to keep going back and forth and clutter a question.
    – Zack
    Sep 13 '12 at 12:41

One exception of the "keep one ball" practice that comes to mind is Serena and Venus Williams. Neither of them ever keep a second ball on them. If their first serve results in a fault, then they will request a second ball from a ball person. You can see this if you watch their match footage.

For the players that request 3, 4 or 5 balls (there is no limit to how many they can request and there are typically 6 balls in play at any given point during the match) - what are they doing to decide which ones to give back to the ball person and which to keep for serving?

It has to do with the look of the ball mainly. The fuzz on tennis balls is very dense and matted down when the balls are new and unused. As they are hit, the fuzz becomes less and less matted down and "fluffs up" - and therefore less aerodynamic, causing the ball to travel through the air slower. As a tennis player - when you're serving, you want the ball to travel through the air as fast as possible, so you're looking for the balls that are the least "fluffed up". This is why you will sometimes hear the commentators of tennis matches refer to new balls as "helping" the first person to serve once new balls are introduced into the match. This is also part of the reason behind the "new ball" gesture players give each other when new balls are introduced. This gesture is made to the player returning serve by the player serving as sort of a "heads up, the balls might fly faster now" warning.

During pro matches, 6 balls (2 cans) of new balls are given to the players before warm-up and then new balls are introduced after the first 7 games, then every 9 games thereafter.

If you really pay attention to player habits and superstitions, you can notice some players won't even look at the ball given to them by the ball person and immediately hit it to the opposing ball person in the other corner because they want each ball person to have an even number of balls in their possession so they can turn to either ball person and know they can get 2 balls from them and not waste time/focus turning to a ball person just to see they aren't holding any balls.

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