Playing With Wet Balls

Some of us sweat more than others, especially in the hot summer weather; but can your opponents stop you from keeping a ball in your wet pocket?  While I know that headline is a great set-up line, that question comes from a reader…

Wet Pocket = Wet Balls

“Hi George,  I was recently questioned by my opponents regarding keeping a second ball in my pocket. I sweat profusely in South Florida especially in August. I told them if John Millman can do it against Federer in the Australian Open then I can do it here. Millman was accused of wiping the balls on his wet tee shirt. ITF does not have a rule against that.
“Our opponents said that the USTA has a rule against “changing the state of the balls.” I responded that I am not intentionally changing the state of the balls just doing what every player does. Therefore the rule does not apply in this case.
“What say you? David Parker
“PS I am playing like I played 10-15 years ago. My knee and shoulder replacements have been a miracle.”   My Answer…  

When my shorts get soaked and my doubles partner is serving, I stop keeping the third ball in my pocket for that reason.  And when I am serving, I always rotate the “pocket ball” with another to minimize the soaking.

I do believe there is a USTA rule against using the ball to mop sweat from your face or hand; but not one for keeping it in your pocket.

Anyone know the answer or have an opinion?

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15 thoughts on “Playing With Wet Balls

  1. I can’t find anything in the rules about balls being too wet to play. The only mention for ball replacement during a match is if the ball is broken or loses pressure. The rules also specifically state, as you have mentioned, that it is not permissible to wipe your sweat off with the ball.
    However, if the ball is so wet that it materially changes the game, I am sure that a plea to the umpire would allow for ball replacement.
    I had to force myself to hold back on your set up.

    Doc, thank you for showing your self restraint … and for being sunday’s First Responder. george

  2. Common sense and courtesy should be applied

    Steve, sorry… sadly, there is none of that in today’s society (but maybe still on the senior tennis court). george

  3. my suggestion is change your topic headline to “playing with wet tennis balls”…..just a thought.
    And a comment, good idea for those who sweat profusely, don’t put “tennis” balls in your pockets. They do affect the play when wet.

    Howie, so you really think i didn’t know how that headline reads?? Two NFL games to watch today… The Brady Bunch at 1 and the Pats tonight! george

  4. I also sweat profusely here in Houston to the point where I frequently go through 4-5 shirts and a couple of pairs of shoes over the course of a match in August. In that circumstance, my shorts are literally sopping wet. I have never had an opponent have an issue with the balls getting wet but I will usually try to keep them out of my pocket at that point just to try to be civil. Let’s face it, I don’t want to play with wet balls either so it makes sense for me to do what I can to try to help keep them dry.

    David, that seems logical, except if you are playing against a real retriever, who would like heavier and slower tennis balls to extend the points! thanks, george

  5. From a USTA referee and reader:
    Although I do not generally comment on things such as this, I wanted to share USTA Comment 3.1 with you from the most current (2020) Friend at Court: “May a player cause a ball to become wet by using the ball to wipe perspiration from the player’s body? No. A player may not take any action that materially changes the condition of the ball; therefore, a player may not use the ball to wipe off perspiration”. David has admitted that he sweats profusely and yes, he is doing what other players do, but he technically is knowingly changing the weight and carry of the ball by continuing the practice. As you know, ITF does have weight and size specifications for tennis balls. USTA Comment 3.1 asks a specific question, answers that question, but in between makes a statement. As an Official and if an opponent expressed a concern, I would examine the ball and evaluate the concern. There are, as you know, alternatives to carrying a ball in a pocket that might be soaked in perspiration.
    Joe Balavage
    USTA Referee

  6. My shorts get so disgusting that I won’t put a ball in the pocket once they reach that stage. Had Wesley Cash, my singles opponent, hold the second and third balls whilst I served. I don’t own a “first” serve, anyway, so it didn’t really matter. And, he was beating the tar out of me, of course. 🙂

    Kevin, remember those plastic tennis ball holders the ladies used to use? Maybe that’s what we need! thanks, george

  7. and, a wishes-to-remain-anonymous friend points out that he NEVER puts a ball in his pocket… when serving, he holds two balls in his hand; and when at the net he leaves the third at the net or back fence.

  8. A good suggestion would be to have your doubles partner hold the second and third ball. I’m not a super “heavy sweater” where my shorts transmits moisture to a ball. Although, I have played against a few opponents through the years who did sweat profusely, it was never a problem for me when it was my turn to serve. Or to tell an opponent the balls were too wet to use. While living in the Midwest, I played inter-club matches in a couple indoor clubs during the summer without air conditioning. Temperatures were pretty oppressive. That would have been a true test for everyone playing. Sometimes out of the four teams participating (16 players), everyone played on without anyone complaining about wet balls.
    By the way George, those plastic ball holders are still being used. There is a man in our local tennis club that still uses one. He never goes on the court without one.

    Glenn, if I am your partner, you don’t want me keeping the ball in my pocket! Thanks. George

  9. Unrelated to anonymous “no balls in a pocket”, I’m sure, but have photos of Hank Irvine volleying after a serve, and he had two balls in his hand. . . 🙂

    Kevin, yes! He starts with all THREE in his hand! george

  10. If it’s a big problem, do what the pros do…open 2 cans of balls and use them for 9 games (7 games at the beginning of the match if you want to count the warmup as 2 games).

    Alan, maybe not to that extreme; but nothing says you can’t open a new can half way thru a match! thanks, george

  11. Lots of self-restraint in all these comments…Bravo!…but I’ll back my good friend, Steve Diamond, “common sense and courtesy”!!!!

  12. Have also seen a senior superstar pull the third ball out of his pocket prior to the toss for his second serve. Suspect it’s related to the “feel” of releasing the ball for the toss.

  13. A caustic tennis pro friend of ours got a new job; but we should not have been surprised when he returned to our tennis club. The dialogue went something like this:

    “Hey Sammy, what are you doing back so soon? Did you let the class go early?”

    “Nope. I got fired.”

    “What do you mean you got fired? You were doing so well. What happened?”

    “I really don’t know. I was just being honest.”


    “Well, it was the last session and I decided to be complimentary to all of the students after 8 weeks of improvement, as my boss told me to be, so they would be encouraged and sign up for more lessons. So, I just went through each of the students and tried to say positive things about their game and improvement”


    “And so, I complimented all of them, one by one. Except for one of them named Mildred, who is just grossly obese and should have taken up golf or tiddly winks instead.”


    “So, I decided to follow the rule of ‘If you don’t have something nice to say about somebody, don’t say anything at all,’ and I just focused on the other students in the group.”


    “Well, at the end, after I asked if there were any questions, Mildred was the only one to raise her hand, so I had to take her question. But she was all huffy and angry – which frankly pissed me off – and she started going off asking why I complimented Mark on his forehand, and Nancy on her volley, and Jules on his service, etc., but I said nothing at all about her and her improvement.”


    “And so, I thought about it for a moment, and I decided to be truthful. So I told her, ‘Well Mildred, I will say this…. You sweat less than any fat lady I have ever met,’ which was the complete truth.”

  14. That is the longest version of “she makes her own clothes”, “the girls all like her”, and “she doesn’t sweat much for a fat girl” that I’ve ever heard. 🙂

    “Common sense and courtesy should be applied

    Steve, sorry… sadly, there is none of that in today’s society (but maybe still on the senior tennis court). george”

    Cool. Just a “few” on the senior courts who don’t seem to get that, happily. Maybe time (if tournaments start back up) for some better “public shaming”. Seems everybody *knows* who those few *are*.

    Kevin, if you think that comment was long, you should have seen it before i cut it down to readable size! george

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