Is there anything better than opening a new can of tennis balls? There’s that gratifying pop as the seal breaks and the pressure is released. There’s that distinctive aroma, an intoxicating blend of new rubber and stale air. The balls roll out of the can and into your palm, and they’re bright and pristine and full of promise. Ahhhh. It’s going to be a good day.
Of course, there’s a dark side accompanying all this new-can fetishizing. Tennis has a pollution problem. I’m sure, like me, you toss your old cans into the recycling bin, but I’m also sure you’ve heard plastic recycling is mostly a sham. Less than ten percent of plastics actually get recycled, and tennis ball cans present an extra challenge because of the metal lip around the top.
We know why this matters. Overflowing landfills. Degraded oceans. Microplastics in our air, food, and water. I love a fresh can as much as the next person, but I don’t want to eat it.
I won’t pretend I’m especially eco-minded. I don’t even compost, for cryin’ out loud. I mean, how hard is it to compost? But I’ve started looking for some easy changes I can make—the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. My latest is swapping out my Cerave gel facial cleanser for the bar-based one. Same product without the plastic. It’s pretty much a no-brainer.
Which brings us back to our dreaded tennis cans.
Earlier this year, I tried out a new tennis ball, the Wilson Triniti. Since most tennis shopping is done online, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen these before. (Yes, they’re sold online, as well as in stores, but unless you know they exist, you wouldn’t be looking for them.)
Here’s what the Triniti can looks like when you buy it:
And here’s what it looks like when you throw it away:
Yup. That’s ordinary, 100% recyclable paper.
HOW TRINITI IS DIFFERENT
Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s cool, but if the balls don’t need a pressurized can, then they’re just crappy pressureless balls. I wouldn’t be caught dead playing with a pressureless ball.”
Except the Triniti balls are pressurized. With use, they’ll lose their pep. But, Wilson claims, thanks to its innovative core, Triniti keeps its “new ball feel” four times longer than a standard tennis ball—and doesn’t require the pressurized plastic can to do it.
What’s more, unlike most pressureless balls, Wilson’s Triniti is USTA-approved.
What does it mean to be USTA-approved? I wondered if this was meaningless marketing blather, but it turns out the USTA puts tennis balls through extensive testing. To be approved for match play, a ball must fall within a defined range on a number of characteristics, like size, weight and rebound.
For instance, to evaluate rebound, the balls are dropped from a height of 100 inches. To pass this element of the test, the ball must bounce to a height of between 53 and 58 inches.
That five-inch range helps explain why a Penn ball plays differently from a Dunlop which plays differently from a Babolat, even though they’re all approved for tournament use. The Triniti falls within the acceptable range on rebound and all other measures.
HOW TRINITI PLAYS
Of course, none of the feel-good, save-the-planet marketing matters if the ball sucks. Sure, the USTA says Triniti’s kosher, but why had I never seen anyone playing with it? I decided to invest in a can and take it for a test drive.
It’s hard to conduct a blind test with Triniti because the balls come out of a paper sleeve and say Triniti right on them. Triniti also makes a different sound when it bounces, a thud disconcertingly similar to that of a dead ball. So for my first two matches, I told my fellow players I was testing a new kind of ball for my blog. I explained about the new construction and forewarned them about the sound.
Test Drive #1:
The first time I tried Triniti was on an indoor hard court. Everyone thought they played just fine, despite the sound, which took some getting used to. One woman especially liked the Triniti because she said it added more pop to her serve.
Test Drive #2:
The next day, I used the same balls with a different group on an outdoor hard court, again explaining I was testing the balls and that they would sound dead although they weren’t. All three players said the balls played well and they’d probably buy them. Two players said if I hadn’t alerted them, they wouldn’t have known they were using a new kind of ball.
Test Drive #3:
The third time I used them was more than two weeks later. A normal tennis ball can’t sit around in an opened can without losing some of its pep, but according to Wilson, this shouldn’t be a problem with the Trinities.
Based on the feedback from Test Drive #2, I withheld some information from Test Group #3. I told them only that I was testing out a longer-lasting ball and that I’d already used them twice. I didn’t mention the new technology, the unpressurized “can” (which I hid), or the ball’s dead sound.
After we warmed up with used conventional balls, I brought out the Trinities for the match. On the very first serve, the ball sounded dead. All three of my fellow players immediately said the balls were no good—they didn’t bounce; they just died. Not wanting to influence their thinking, I said nothing. We played only one game before they insisted we open a new can of regular balls.
After we finished our match, I asked one of the women to stay and rally a bit using the Triniti ball. We hit for fifteen minutes or so, at which point she said she couldn’t see any difference between the Triniti and the standard balls we’d just used. We wondered if everyone had misjudged it simply because of its “old ball” appearance and dead sound.
I then approached another foursome on the next court who’d already played a set with a new can of regular balls. They happily agreed to participate in the experiment, and this time I warned them about the sound. They played four games with Triniti before I asked for their feedback.
All agreed that the Triniti was every bit as lively—in fact, probably livelier—than the new balls they’d just been using. One woman didn’t like them because she thought she was hitting out more. The others said although the Trinities played a little differently, they’d buy them for their environmental value.
Test Drive #4:
Six days later, I gave them to a friend to try out in her doubles game on a clay court and asked her to report back. (No, I don’t know why I was excluded from this game. It’s all right. I’ve moved on.)
According to the marketing, my Trinities should still play like a new can of balls. The result: After one set, no one wanted to continue using the Triniti because the bounce didn’t feel true.
Were the balls truly “dead” at that point, even though they should have been good for one more day? Do Trinities perform worse on clay, even though they’re marketed for all surfaces? Were the players distracted by the appearance and sound of the ball, like Test Group 3’s participants seemed to be? Was the clay itself wetter and deader on the test day?
Obviously I can’t answer these questions since, as noted, I wasn’t invited. And even if I had been—and let the record show I was available that morning—my own perceptions aren’t free of bias. I want to like these balls.
Another test case (and perhaps a clue as to why I wasn’t invited)
Some weeks later, I was warming up with Triniti prior to another social match. This particular set of Trinities had been used at least once before.
After warm-up, one of the players popped open a new can, saying the Trinities didn’t bounce.
Confidently, and a bit obnoxiously, I said, “Actually, I bet they bounce higher than the ones you just opened.”
She tested them out side-by-side and, laughing, had to admit I was right. She wondered how she could have so completely misperceived it. Again, it seems we’re so conditioned to the sound of a dead ball that our brains disregard all other input.
We ended up using her newly opened can because we had to. Otherwise they’d have started going dead. I, on the other hand, could just toss my Trinities in my bag, knowing they’d still be peppy whenever I used them again.
I tried very hard not to appear smug about this. Being right really brings out the worst in me.
IS TRINITI WORTH IT?
Finally, there’s the cost. The Triniti ball is more expensive upfront but will likely save you money in the long run. How much money depends on the quality of ball you usually buy, whether you typically re-use your regular balls, and how often you’ll use each sleeve of Triniti.
You know what that means, don’t you? It’s time for Tennis Math! Loyal readers (are there any other kind?) know I love me some Tennis Math, but if you aren’t gleefully rubbing your hands together right now, you can just scroll down to the next section.
Let’s dive right in, shall we?
A case of balls from Tennis Warehouse costs the following:
- Wilson Triniti = $110, which works out to $110/24 = $4.58 per sleeve
- Wilson US Open = $100 = $4.17 per can
- Wilson Championship = $70 = $2.92 per can
Let’s suppose you play tennis 12 times a month, you buy Wilson Championship balls, and you use each can twice. Let’s also suppose your friends are a bunch of freeloaders who never seem to show up with tennis balls. You would need 6 cans for the month. (You may also need some new friends.)
Wilson Championship: $2.92 x 6 = $17.52 per month
If you switched to Triniti and used each sleeve 3 times, you’d need 4 sleeves for a month.
Triniti: $4.58 x 4 = $18.32 per month
Under this scenario, the Triniti will cost 80 cents more per month, or $9.60 more a year. No savings, but not an onerous expense, either.
But if you used each Triniti sleeve for 4 matches, you’ll go through only 3 sleeves a month. That’s $4.58 x 3 = $13.74 per month. Now we’re getting somewhere. You’ll save $45 a year.
I won’t work through all the various permutations. (That’s not true. I did work through them because I’m a nerd. What I really mean is I’ll spare you the chore of reading it–or save you the fun of doing all those calculations yourself.)
The biggest cost-saving scenario? Going from Wilson US Open balls that you use for only 1 match to Triniti balls that you use for 4. You’d save $435 a year. (I ♥ Tennis Math!)
THE PROS AND CONS OF TRINITI
- Way better for the environment
- Very cool-looking package
- Plays “like new” longer, although possibly not as long as the marketing suggests
- Can sit around for weeks without losing its pep
- Plays better in the cold than standard balls (I didn’t play in the cold, but some online reviewers have.)
- Generally cheaper than normal balls in the long run
- More expensive upfront
- No more intoxicating fun of popping the can
- A different, somewhat dead sound
- A not-so-fresh look by day 4
- Some adjustment to a livelier ball
- Possibly not as good on clay
- A firmer ball, so it may not be a good choice for those with tennis elbow (I didn’t notice the ball was firmer, but some online reviewers as well as my local pro have.)
The biggest con, though, may be having to convince other players to use them. Who wants to start every social match debating whether a tennis ball is any good? (And for a league match? I wouldn’t even try to use them. Some of those women are downright scary.)
But on the whole, I’d say switching to Triniti is another no-brainer in my slowly greening consumption habits. I’m going to keep bringing them to social games and encouraging people to try them. I’ll try to do this as unobnoxiously as I can so I don’t lose all my tennis friends.
Now, here is where a bigger, more successful blog would include an enticing offer. Mention LittleYellowBall and get 10% off your first purchase of Wilson Triniti! Woo-hoo!
Wouldn’t that be great?
Someday, my friends…