Novak Djokovic - US Open 2023

Novak Djokovic labels the ATP’s silence about ball changes ‘incomprehensible’

Novak Djokovic is the latest player to have his say on ball changes causing injuries, with the 24-time Grand Slam champion slamming the ATP for not speaking up on this.

Djokovic has spoken to Sporcle about the ongoing issue, that has lead the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Taylor Fritz all to comment on the injuries they have suffered with.

“There is certainly a connection between frequent injuries of the wrist, elbow, and shoulder with ball changes,” claimed Djokovic. “I am absolutely in favor of choosing one ball with which we will play all ATP tournaments.”

The 36-year-old continued, “It is different and more difficult with the Grand Slams because each of the biggest tournaments we play, negotiates separately which sponsor they will have for the balls, but this also happens on the ATP tour. Every tournament has the right to negotiate.

“However, we simply have to find a way to unify, so that in each category on the ATP tour we have one ball to play with, depending on the surface. Sometimes that change of balls happens three times in three weeks depending on where we play, and it affects the health of the players and the joints themselves.”

A plethora of different players have spoken on this topic, with former top 10 player Pablo Carreno-Busta revealing that he believes ball changes are partly responsible for the elbow injury that has kept him on the sidelines for almost eight months this year.

“I’m sure the balls have something to do with my injury,” said the Spaniard. “For example, before Roland Garros I was training with some balls at the Academy to recover from the injury and it was going well, I was playing sets, and I switched to the Roland Garros balls to start training with them and after 20 minutes I had to stop because it (the elbow) had become inflamed again. It is clear that the balls are very different, and the continuous change of balls has an influence.

“Last week we played with one brand, this week we played with another. On the Challenger circuit it is even worse because more are changed, but on the ATP circuit a lot of balls are also changed. We don’t even do two tournaments with practically the same ones. On the same Australian or clay court tour you can change the brand of balls. This influences more injuries.”

It’s not just players on the ATP Tour complaining about this issue, with former world No.2 Paula Badosa revealing that the problem is also prevalent on the WTA Tour.

In response to Portuguese player Gastao Elias demanding that the ATP tour to pay for his physiotherapy and describing the balls as ‘inhumane’, Badosa said, “Agree! The issue is not only ATP unfortunately… With the WTA we are having the same problems for years as well. We need a change from both sides.”

And Djokovic has slammed the sporting organisations for not responding to the complaints of their players, “I support the players complaining and asking the ATP to find a way to resolve it. They have to find a solution. I didn’t see that the ATP issued any statement regarding the player’s complaints, and these are things that are incomprehensible to me.

“When you have tennis players from the top who are trying to reach you in public and say ‘Hey, let’s talk about that topic,’ you have to make a statement, address them, and say ‘Okay, we understand, let’s sit at the table, let’s talk.’ I don’t understand why there is silence from their side.”

The world No.1 concluded, “I hope they will realize that there simply must be direct communication. Likewise, it should be publicly announced that they have received this information and are working on it, in the sense that they will see how they can find a solution that is acceptable. Silence will not change anything.”

Inside the baseline…

Djokovic is likely to be concerned about the prospect of all these injuries, having undergone elbow surgery back in 2018. His belief that there should only be one ball used on the ATP tour seems to be the most viable and sensible solution, with Grand Slams a separate entity. This also needs to be followed up on the WTA Tour, and both organisations should be more transparent and respond to players sooner rather than later.

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.