There are two main types of tennis balls, pressureless and pressurized. Although pressurized is by far the game’s most popular choice, they’re both excellent options as long as you understand the differences.
As the name suggests, pressureless tennis balls are not pressurized with a mix of air and nitrogen, which is how their more common pressurized alternatives get their bounce.
Instead, the design and construction of a pressureless ball enable sufficient bounce and energy return without internal pressure. As a result, they offer a significant advantage in maintaining consistent performance for a dramatically longer period.
Due to their unpressurized nature, their packaging differs from the familiar plastic tubes you’re likely accustomed to seeing for tennis balls.
Rather than plastic tubes, manufacturers typically sell them in mesh or plastic bags and buckets as an alternative. One of the few exceptions is Wilson, who offers their Trinity tennis balls in cardboard tubes. Another is Tretorn X, which you can purchase in plastic tubes that aren’t pressurized.
Pressureless tennis balls are sufficient for any type of court surface, including hard, clay, and grass. They’re also well-suited for indoor courts.
Unlike pressureless, pressurized tennis balls get their bounce through an injection of air and nitrogen during their manufacture.
A specialized machine adds the pressure right before a vulcanization process seals a tennis ball’s two rubber internal halves. After making the balls, factories store them in plastic tubes with an internal air pressure of 14 PSI to maintain the balls’ internal pressure up until their use.
Pressurized tennis balls are widely considered superior during matches and serious competition, delivering optimal performance with an ideal bounce, feel, and better topspin. As a result, they’re the only type of ball you’ll find the professionals using.
Unfortunately, their life span is short. After opening a can of pressurized tennis balls, their internal pressure slowly leaks, and eventually, they lose their bounce, which players typically refer to as “dead.”
Even an unopened can of pressurized tennis balls will lose some pressure if you let them sit long enough, so they have a shelf life, which is worth considering if you buy them in bulk to save money.
An alternative form of pressurized tennis balls is high-altitude tennis balls, which deliver better performance above 4,000 feet (1,219 m).
As you go up in elevation, the air gets thinner, i.e., the air pressure is lower. As a result, a traditional pressurized tennis ball travels faster through the air, and the internal pressure compared to the outside pressure makes them bouncier.
High-altitude tennis balls compensate for the change in air pressure at higher elevations with an increase in size, roughly 6% bigger than a standard ball, increasing drag to slow them down. Manufacturers also lower the internal pressure below the typical 14 PSI, so they don’t bounce as high.
For your enjoyment, it’s best to use the tennis balls that are ideally suited for the altitude you’re playing. However, recognizing the difference between regular tennis balls and high altitude is also helpful to ensure you don’t purchase the wrong kind.
Pressureless tennis balls offer a different construction than their pressurized counterparts to deliver the best possible performance.
They’ll offer a few tweaks in most cases, including a thicker rubber and heavier-duty outer felt that’s extra durable. The former gives them more bounce while the latter enables them to last longer because their lifespan is significantly longer than a pressurized ball.
It’s worth noting that the felt on all pressureless tennis balls isn’t equal. The best and most durable options will be those designed specifically for use with a ball machine. Furthermore, the rubber compound distinguishes between one pressureless ball and another.
Ball machines pass tennis balls through two rotating wheels to fire or launch them, which exerts tremendous pressure and force on the outside. Extra-durable specialized felt ensures they don’t prematurely wear so that you can get the maximum life out of the balls.
Micro Cellular Technology
In 1998, Tretorn launched a new pressureless tennis ball with extra durable felt and a thicker rubber wall like most options on the market. However, they took things a step further by adding roughly 700 million tiny, air-filled plastic microcells to the center of the ball.
The result is an unpressurized ball, but not quite pressureless in the traditional sense. It falls somewhere on the spectrum between pressurized and pressureless, making their construction unique and placing them in their own category.
In my experience, pressureless tennis balls receive an unnecessarily bad wrap. Although I can confidently argue for the enhanced performance of a pressurized ball, the differences for many players will be nuanced. I also believe their advantages often outweigh their disadvantages.
Let’s review some of the top reasons to make the switch.
Hands down, the best reason to invest and start using pressureless tennis balls is their lifespan, which far outlasts pressurized balls.
A can of pressurized tennis balls will last for roughly a month on the high end. However, in my experience, you’re only going to get about one to two weeks out of a can of pressurized tennis balls, especially if you’re hitting two to three times per week or playing at a higher level.
At the pro level, tournaments rotate tennis balls after seven games and then nine games for the remainder of a match, and there are six tennis balls in play at any given time, meaning the performance can drop quickly.
On the other hand, pressureless tennis balls can last upwards of a year, so you won’t have to replace them nearly as often. All things being equal, pressureless will outlast pressurized by a long shot.
Independent of the type of ball you’re using, here are a few factors to consider that will influence their longevity.
Ball Quality: Some tennis balls are better than others and last longer.
Frequency of Play: The more you play, the shorter the lifespan.
Level of Play: If you’re a strong intermediate to an advanced player hitting hard with lots of spin, they won’t last as long.
Type of Court: If you play on hard courts, they’ll last longer than if you play on clay courts.
Indoors vs. Outdoors: The balls will last longer than if you play indoors vs. outdoors.
Elements: Sun and rain will degrade tennis balls faster than when you don’t expose them to these elements.
Keep your pressureless tennis balls in good condition, and you’ll rarely have to replace them, which is a huge bonus.
A nice side effect of the added longevity you get from pressureless tennis balls is that you’ll save money because you won’t be buying them as frequently. Here’s a quick breakdown of the yearly expense if you’re using pressurized tennis balls and play two to three times per week.
Replacing Balls Once a Week
Replacing Balls Every Two Weeks
Alternatively, you could spend dramatically less if you play with pressureless tennis balls. Here’s a handful of scenarios for how much you’d spend buying three pressureless tennis balls at a time for $8 based on the number of times you replace them.
Number of Replacements in a Year
Even if you replace them at a high frequency of six times or every two months, you’ll be spending less than half the cost of what you would for pressurized tennis balls, which you can stick back in your pocket.
Another reason worth considering a quality set of pressureless tennis balls is that the durability of their felt will be better, especially if you’re purchasing those that are adequate for tennis ball machines.
The higher felt durability pairs nicely with the extra longevity, so you end up with a ball that performs well over the long term.
Regardless of whether you use pressureless or pressurized tennis balls, I’d encourage you to recycle them. Organizations like RecycleBalls have helped lead the charge in getting the job done.
Unfortunately, most still end up in landfills. As a result, the fewer tennis balls you use, the less waste you’re producing, which is excellent for the environment in the long run.
No Plastic Canister Required
Beyond the tennis balls, plastic cans for pressurizing balls are wasteful and harmful to the environment. By switching to pressureless tennis balls, plastic packaging is no longer required.
Of course, even if the brand you buy does package their balls in plastic, you’ll be using fewer cans, which means fewer cans end up in the trash.
Pressureless tennis balls are an excellent option for many players, but they don’t come without pitfalls. For some, the disadvantages are deal-breakers, which is understandable.
However, if you’re not overly concerned with any of these pitfalls, you may want to try them and gauge their performance for yourself.
Although pressureless tennis balls rival the bounce of pressurized, they’re not quite as springy, especially when comparing a fresh can.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind here. First, a pressurized ball’s bounce will quickly decline after opening them. If you compare a pressureless tennis ball’s bounce to a pressurized ball after an hour of play, you’ll be surprised at how similar the bounce is.
Second, pressureless tennis balls require a bit of break-in. I find they perform dramatically better after 2-3 hours of play because the thicker rubber softens up and improves the bounce.
Pressureless tennis balls use thicker rubber cores to support a better bounce and improve their longevity. As a result, the balls are a few grams heavier than pressurized balls, so they don’t travel as quickly.
Despite that, most players would be hard-pressed to tell the difference when holding the two different types of balls in each hand.
If you have the experience to tell the difference when hitting, i.e., the ball travels a bit slower, you may opt not to use them for this reason. However, I’d argue that many players won’t notice a change, especially when playing as a beginner or recreationally.
The added weight also subtly influences topspin, requiring more effort to generate it. Again, more experienced players will be able to detect a difference when comparing both types of balls. However, it’s not a significant difference, and players can still generate plenty of topspin.
Feel & Comfort
Due to their heavier weight and thicker rubber, pressureless tennis balls tend to feel a bit stiffer and weightier than pressurized ones.
Regarding the stiffness, you should find that they break in after a few hours of play which helps soften up the thicker rubber. Warmer conditions also help to improve their feel further.
Some players with arm issues like tennis elbow may note added discomfort using them, so you may want to steer clear of using them if that’s a concern.
You most likely don’t think about the sound a tennis ball makes coming off your racquet too often. However, there is a discernible difference in the sound when using pressureless tennis balls.
Some people find the alternate sound offputting. Others will barely take notice or won’t care enough to be concerned. Regardless, it’s worth noting a difference if you’re used to using pressurized tennis balls.
Although pressureless tennis balls are perfectly well-suited for tennis in any scenario, they have their ideal uses where they’re often the better option and will help you save money.
Pressureless tennis balls are hands down the best option when using a ball machine as they have superior durability that’s essential for optimal performance and reduced costs.
I’ve experimented with using pressurized tennis balls in my ball machine on a few occasions, and they get chewed up very quickly. Plus, they lose their pressure faster than they would under normal circumstances.
On the other hand, pressureless tennis balls are perfectly well suited for use within tennis ball machines as they’re significantly more durable and don’t require frequent replacement. For most, the cost of continuously replacing pressurized tennis balls for use in a tennis ball machine would be cost-prohibitive.
Practice & Coaching
When you’re practicing on the court, repetition is key, so you’ll likely want to have a basket on hand to hit more balls and spend less time chasing them down or picking them up.
The same is true when an instructor coaches a player and feeds them balls to focus on improving a specific shot.
It can become an expensive habit if you fill your basket with pressurized tennis balls. Plus, if you’re not using them regularly, you may find they start to die before you’ve had a chance to get plenty of use out of them.
With that in mind, pressureless tennis balls are an excellent option for practicing or tennis coaches. You can fill a basket with them and use them for months without their performance declining substantially.
Doing so saves you money, and since you’re practicing, the ball’s performance isn’t as critical as it would be for match play.
If you play tennis casually and somewhat infrequently with friends and family to get some exercise, pressureless tennis balls are excellent.
You can buy them once and always have them handy whenever you want to play, and you likely will be hard-pressed to notice any difference from pressurized balls. Plus, it can be frustrating to buy a can of tennis balls, use them once, and then go out to play a few weeks later, and they’re dead despite still looking brand new.
Tennis balls are a popular toy for dogs, either for playing fetch or chewing. If you have a bigger dog, you may have experienced they can chew through or tear off the felt relatively quickly, requiring you to repurchase them often for your furry friend.
If that’s the case, you will get some added life out of pressureless tennis balls as they have thicker rubber cores and more durable felt. However, depending on the breed and how they play with toys, you may need to temper your expectations.
Although a quality pressureless tennis ball is more durable, some dogs can easily chew through both types, so it may not be a slam dunk savings for you if that’s why you’re interested in buying them.
Best Pressureless Tennis Balls
Throughout this guide, I’ve mentioned that some pressureless balls are better than others, which is undeniably true. I’ve used a variety in my ball machine, and some are noticeably more durable than others.
Furthermore, some offer a better feel and performance than others. I’ve tested those I’ve shared below and found they perform well across the board despite their nuanced differences.
Only three of the six I’ve shared are adequate for use within a ball machine, so I’ve noted that as I review them.
These first three pressureless tennis balls are the cream of the crop. Although they come with a heftier price tag, I’m happy to spend the extra money to get a quality ball that lasts.
All of these premium balls are adequate for ball machines.
Spinfire is an Australian company that produces some of the best tennis ball machines, but they also sell pressureless balls for use with their Spinfire Pro 2, which I’ve found excellent.
Depending on where you live, you may find they offer slightly different tennis balls, including Spinfire Juice, Spinfire Touch, and SetPoint Pulp. I’ve used all of them, and their qualities are somewhat different.
Spinfire Touch: A softer rubber for a more traditional feel.
SetPoint Pulp: Somewhere between the Spinfire Juice and Spinfire Touch.
I’m continuously impressed with the quality of Spinfire tennis balls, which take a hard beating in my ball machine and are long-lasting.
Like most pressureless balls, their felt will flatten over time, resulting in less topspin production. However, their performance remains fantastic throughout their life span. I’ve used them for a year and a half before I felt it was time to recycle and move on to the next.
It’s worth noting that Spinfire only sells their tennis balls in bulk, which makes sense because their primary business is ball machines.
Tretorn Micro X
Tretorn first started producing tennis balls in 1902, and in 1998, they introduced their Micro X tennis ball. This unique offering fills the balls with nearly 700 million air-filled plastic microcells called Expancel.
Despite the added weight, Tretorn Micro X does a great job matching the feel of a traditional pressurized tennis ball. Although their durability is excellent, I’d give the edge to Spinfire’s offerings in this department.
Due to their unique construction and fill, Micro X tennis balls make a distinct louder pop, similar to a dead pressurized tennis ball. If you can get past the sound, these are an excellent choice.
Lobster, a prominent ball machine company, is a distributor who sells these balls alongside their machines, including the Lobster Elite 2.
Relative to Spinfire, I’m a fan of how you can purchase a single can of these tennis balls, which is an excellent option if you want to try them out before buying them in bulk.
Trinity & Trinity Pro
In 2019, Wilson Sporting Goods, one of the game’s most prominent brands, introduced a new pressureless tennis ball called Trinity and kept sustainability at the forefront of their design decisions.
As a pressureless tennis ball, it lasts dramatically longer than a pressurized ball resulting in less waste. However, they also packaged these balls in fully recyclable cardboard sleeves. Finally, five percent of the profits from Trinity balls support Wilson’s global sustainability efforts.
As for their performance, Trinity tennis balls shed weight using a unique Engage rubber core that’s lighter than Wilson’s pressurized balls, allowing them to increase the thickness without adding as much weight.
As far as durability, they’re solid and sufficient for use with a ball machine, but they’re not entirely on par with Spinfire or Tretorn. However, with that said, I like the feel of these balls more, which I think are the closest match to a pressurized tennis ball on the market with excellent playability.
Trinity vs. Trinity Pro
In 2022, Wilson released an update to the original Trinity with the Trinity Pro, the same great ball with an enhanced high-performance felt that plays faster, has added durability, and improved consistency on bounces.
I recently used the updated version, and I’d say they’re right on par with the original but deliver slightly better performance for more advanced play. The difference is subtle, so if you’re unsure which to buy, I’d opt for the original as a beginner to early intermediate. As an intermediate to advanced player, I’d encourage you to spring for the Pro version.
The following pressureless tennis balls cost less, but I wouldn’t recommend them for ball machines as their durability isn’t adequate for that specific use. However, these balls are excellent options for general use and practice.
Penn is a leader in the market for pressurized tennis balls and is one of the most prevalent options on the market. Although I wouldn’t give Penn the nod as a premium pressureless tennis ball, they are a terrific option for practice and general use.
My favorite part about Penn’s tennis balls is that they’re well-rounded and deliver reliable performance. They don’t wow in any particular area, but they’re more than adequate and my top pick in this category.
Another reputable tennis company, Gamma, produces a range of tennis accessories, stringing machines, and tennis strings. Although Gamma doesn’t specialize in performance tennis balls, they’re one of the leaders for kid’s tennis balls, which has become a big market.
As far as their pressureless tennis balls for adults go, they’re a quality option that delivers the qualities you’d expect from a pressureless ball.
The only issue I’ve had with them is that their felt doesn’t seem to hold up quite as well as the Penn balls. If you’re a solid intermediate to an advanced tennis player who hits a heavy ball, then the lifespan will be a bit shorter because you’ll burn through the felt quicker.
With that said, these are an excellent option for beginners and intermediate players who want a ball they can consistently rely on that has more terrific longevity and adequate all-around performance.
Best known for their light blue Tourna Grips, one of the top choices for overgrips, the company also makes various accessories and products to help players get the most out of their time on the court.
One of their popular products for tennis includes pressureless tennis balls, which are a favorite among recreational players. I think these balls deliver great performance but have found more inconsistency in their manufacturing process, leading to a few duds every purchase.
If you can get past that, you should find these balls are as good as any in the budget category, but they stand out from the crowd as the low cost with a price point that’s hard to beat.
They wouldn’t be my top pick for strong intermediate to adults who will hit harder and with more topspin. However, these are an excellent option that is unlikely to disappoint for everyone else, including kids and young children.
If you’re considering pressureless tennis balls or have thought about giving them a try in the past to save yourself some money and limit your environmental impact, I’d encourage you to give them a try.
I think these balls are more than adequate for a large portion of the tennis community, especially for casual players hitting with friends or family.
Although you’ll get the best performance out of a quality can of pressurized tennis balls, I expect that many players will find the advantages of pressureless outweigh the disadvantages.
If you have any questions or want to share your experience with this type of tennis ball, drop a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.