Wimbledon, the most tradition-bound and formal of the tennis Majors – rivaled only by The Masters among sporting events in that regard – is known for its iconic colors.
The grass is green. The players wear white. Purple and green are the colors of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
And until 1986 – long after the rest of the tennis world had switched to phosphorescent yellow balls – AELTC made the momentous switch too, adding yellow to the palette at SW 19.
Now 30 years removed, the ESPN Tennis team at Wimbledon reflects on the change.
Having learned the game when the balls were white, ESPN tennis analyst Chrissie Evert competed most of her career hitting yellow ones with her famous ground strokes.
“You definitely see what seems to be a big yellow ball coming at you.”
ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver – who had a supporting role a year earlier in an infamous Wimbledon color controversy (she was the opponent of the appropriately named Anne White who wore the correct color but in a way that raised many proper British eyebrows) – remembers the change being a big deal, considering the Club’s history.
“Anytime Wimbledon changed anything – from adopting the tie break at 6-6 to eliminating the requirement for players to bow and curtsy to the Royal Box – it was huge. They are much more innovative today.”
In addition to the benefits a yellow ball provides the competitors, another factor was considered. “You definitely see it better, and you see it better on TV too,” says ESPN tennis analyst Patrick McEnroe.
Vice President, Production, Jamie Reynolds, first worked at Wimbledon in 1980 and remembers the TV-unfriendly nature of the white balls.
“They always turned green from grass stains,” he recalls. “They blended so much with the grass the visuals were compromised. Remember, there was no HD then!”
Summing it up, the dean of the ESPN tennis team, Hall of Famer and ESPN tennis commentator Cliff Drysdale, simply said, “I can’t imagine playing without yellow balls.”