Wimbledon, the oldest organized tennis tournament in the world, starts this week. And with it comes many time honored traditions such as the rule that every player must wear white, it always rains, the much loved (and often overpriced) strawberries and cream, and, since 1902, the numerous aces served with a Slazenger tennis ball.
A few years ago I wrote about the strawberry supply chain for Wimbledon. Did you know that during the Wimbledon fortnight, it is estimated that spectators will consume 61,730 pound (28,000 kilos) of English strawberries and 7,000 liters of cream. The good news is that they only have to travel less than 100 miles from specially registered farms in Kent to SW19.
In contrast, when the Slazenger balls are slammed down at 100+ miles an hour, it has been calculated that this is just the last leg of a 50,000+ mile journey before it generates the chalk dust (as John McEnrore once famously pointed out) of Center Court.
Serving a global supply chain
Although Slazenger is headquartered in Derbyshire, England, the materials that make up the official Wimbledon ball fly between 11 countries and across four continents before being manufactured in Bataan in the Philippines. The balls then travelling the final 6,660 miles to London according to research by the Warwick Business School .
The tennis ball has a truly global supplier base that ship materials directly or indirectly to the Philippines. Materials come from as far afield as:
- Clay shipped from South Carolina in the USA
- Silica from Greece
- Magnesium carbonate from Japan
- Zinc oxide from Thailand
- Sulphur from South Korea
- Rubber from Malaysia
- Petroleum naphthalene from China
- Glue from the Philippines
- Wool from New Zealand that is shipped to Stroud in England
- Wool is processed into felt in England and then sent to the Philippines.
- Tins manufactured and are shipped from Indonesia
Obviously it is not only chalk dust that the ball generates, but also quite a large carbon footprint!
Keeping a “Hawk-eye” on quality
The tennis ball has evolved since Slazenger provided its first hand-sewn, wool-coated balls to Wimbledon in 1902. Today, every ball is identical and individually hand tested for bounce, weight and compression:
- Must bounce between 53 and 58 inches after being dropped onto concrete from a height of 100 inches.
- Must measure two-and-a-half inches (6.35cms) in diameter
- Must weigh two ounces (56.7g).
- Must be treated with a water repellent barrier called Hydroguard (to protect it from the British rain)
- Must be packed in a pressurized tin to keep it from going soft.
- Must be kept at 68° Fahrenheit (in a fridge) courtside to keep them in perfect condition.
It amazes me that Slazenger supply 52,200 tennis balls to Wimbledon each year. About 20,000 of these are used for qualifying and practice. At start of day 48 tins taken onto Centre and No.1 Courts and 24 on all outside courts.
And after travelling so far, and tested so thoroughly, the balls are only used for a short space of time. “New balls” are called for after the first seven games and then after every 9 games.
So when the defending champion Andy Murray (who last year became the 1st British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936) serves that ace to open the tournament, remember how far that ball has travelled.
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