Got tennis balls? Not if you’re in New York City.
Everyone’s got tennis fever with the US Open in full swing, but players are causing a racket because of a ball shortage ravaging sports stores.
Woody Schneider, the owner of midtown’s NYC Racquet Sports, has never seen anything quite like it before.
“At first, people thought it was a joke,” he said, but when shelves ran dry, people began flocking to his store in search of the fuzzy green balls.
“I’ve never sold so many cases of balls in my career,” Schneider, who’s owned the shop for nearly 30 years, told The Post.
“Tennis warehouse is back ordered, and the prices of 24 pack cases are higher than ever before,” one Reddit user wrote.
The shortage seems to be mostly affecting Wilson and Penn tennis balls, which make up a predominant share of the tennis market. Luckily for Schneider, he doesn’t typically carry those brands. The smaller companies he stocks, like Dunlop and Babolat, haven’t experienced the same supply-chain issues, and he’s still able to serve the athletic community.
That’s not necessarily the case at other Manhattan shops.
“We weren’t able to get US Open balls [made by Wilson],” said Mark Mason, who has owned Mason’s Tennis on East 53rd Street for 50 years.
Manufacturers, Mason said, are delaying shipments because of a backup of containers coming from overseas. Stores like his need higher-margin items, like racquets, more than they need lower-margin items such as tennis balls. Those become the last items to ship out — and supply doesn’t appear to be bouncing back anytime soon.
Author and podcaster Touré, an avid tennis player based in Brooklyn, said he’s noticed a lack of tennis balls on recreational courts for the past few weeks.
“Guys have been saying they’re having trouble getting balls,” Touré said, referring to the group of 20 or so men he plays with recreationally at the Fort Greene courts. “It’s been one of the more interesting things out of the whole COVID thing.”
He and his friends had no idea Babolat even made tennis balls until they were forced to buy them recently as a last resort.
To the novice eye, tennis ball brands might not seem that important, but it can affect how athletes play, Touré said.
Some balls last longer and don’t wear as much throughout a long volley, and ones that easily wear and tear get fluffier and less aerodynamic because of the texture.
There’s also “a big difference in new balls versus old balls” because of the wearing after playing, he said.
Meanwhile, more enthusiasts than ever are hitting the courts.
Mason has seen a “boom” of new tennis players because its socially distanced nature makes it a “great COVID sport.”
Last year, there were 4 million new tennis players in the US, said Sarah Houseknecht, the director of brand communications for Wilson. The pandemic, she said, affected factory output and the ability to move products around the world.
“We expect supply chain challenges to continue as the world comes out of the pandemic,” Houseknecht wrote in an emailed statement.
US Tennis Association CEO Michael Dowse cited a 40% increase in racquet sales this year alone, which could add up to a few million more new players.
While the tennis ball shortage isn’t affecting the US Open, it is still a major challenge for the industry. The Open is pre-planned six to 12 months in advance, Dowse said, and since Wilson tennis balls were secured months ago, the event was “never in jeopardy.”
Meanwhile, for the rising number of amateur players, demand continues to outstrip supply.
“It’s the biggest growth we’ve ever seen,” Dowse said.