Tennis Balls Are Yellow Thanks To David Attenborough

Grace Higgins | March 10th, 2020

A crazy story that you may never have heard before was recently covered in Tennis Today, it is the story on how tennis balls became their unique bright yellow color. Before that, they had always been white, and the amazing part is the change came off the back of a contribution by Sir David Attenborough.

You see at the time he was the Controller of BBC2, the channel that regularly covered all the tennis games. White tennis balls were fine during the era of black and white television, but as color became more and more mainstream; well David Attenborough knew there was going to be a problem. He put forth the idea of using yellow tennis balls as they would be much easier to see and follow on a color TV.

Older tennis fans may still remember using white tennis balls, but after a certain date, you would not even have been aware that they existed. During the 1800s when lawn tennis was really getting popular, either white or black tennis balls were used. This was the case up until the 1970s, which is when the great Sir David Attenborough came into the picture.

He had the job of introducing color television to BBC2, they had been asking the government over and over to give them color broadcasting but they had kept refusing. Until 1967 when the government suddenly changed their tune and advised they would have color television within 9 months. The idea being they wanted the BBC to broadcast Wimbledon in color for the first time in the summer of 1967.

However, the use of the white tennis balls meant it was difficult for viewers to follow the flight of the tennis ball, making it harder to enjoy and spectate the match. Finally, in 1972, the International Tennis Federation approved the fluorescent yellow tennis ball color we know today. Though Wimbledon ever trying to remain the classic of tennis took another 14 years to embrace the new color of tennis balls, continuing to use the white ones and frustrate viewers for another decade.

So that is the story of how Attenborough’s suggestion did, in fact, change the tennis ball from white to yellow, of course, some debate and argue that they are in fact green – but let’s not open up that story.

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