Wikipedia has an entire page with a list of people who have died while playing Cricket. Several of these incidents include deaths due to being hit by the ball.
Cricket balls can clearly break bones and do far worse, but what about tennis balls?
Tennis balls cannot break bones. They have a rubber core that is not strong enough to do any major damage. They can still cause soft tissue damage and bruising if hit hard enough.
There are two potential exceptions (based on rumors) that I will share later in this piece.
I have only heard about these incidents once in my 10 years of working in tennis, so it is pretty rare if they did actually happen.
In this article I will be covering:
- Whether it is possible for a tennis ball to break bones if travelling fast enough
- Cases of broken bones due to impact from balls on the pro level
- What would happen if you broke your opponent’s bones with a ball in a match
Tennis is a very safe sport but if you’re not convinced yet, read on!
Can A Tennis Ball Travel Fast Enough To Break Your Bones?
I have already given the answer away in the introduction but let’s discuss it in more detail.
The absolute minimum amount of energy needed to completely break a bone is 375 joules of energy. On the other end of the scale and under extreme circumstances, the energy needed can increase to as much as 9920 joules.
When serving (as a professional player), a tennis ball’s kinetic energy is around 70 joules. So, based on this, we can conclude it is impossible to break a bone with a tennis ball?
We can say it is pretty much impossible. I do not have concrete evidence, but I know of two incidents in which there have been claims of a broken bone.
I remember once hearing a story of a lady who was playing doubles. She was standing at the net, and the opponent served. The ball allegedly hit her fingers directly with such force that the bone shattered.
Based on the information available and my personal experience, I find this hard to believe. Still, I have heard of similar third-hand stories. I’m yet to meet anyone who has had personal experience of broken bones due to ball impact.
The other case I have been told about is noses being broken. In a similar story, a player is standing at the net, and the ball strikes the nose with such force that the bone breaks.
I have witnessed several times in my life someone standing at the net and being struck with a ball. Every time it has been at the nose, it has never been anything worse than a nosebleed, swelling, and maybe a little bruising.
I think the worst-case scenario for the nose would be dislocation.
After scouring the internet, it seems all the cases of broken bones are just stories. No one can conclusively put their hand up and say, “my bone was broken by a ball.”
The science implies that it is not possible to break a bone with a tennis ball. I am inclined to believe that over rumours or what tennislover123 from reddit has to say.
Reported Cases Of Broken Bones During Pro Matches
There are no reported cases of broken bones on the pro tour caused by impact from the tennis ball.
Someone I used to play with who had competed in an ITF event in Egypt told me of an incident he saw in which someone broke a bone.
A couple of players were hitting on one of the practice courts. One had not cleared a ball off to the side. In the middle of a rally, he stepped on the ball, tripped over, and broke his ankle.
Tripping over balls on the court is one of the most common tennis injuries. When I have people for lessons, I am always sure to highlight how important it is to have clothes with pockets. If you have pockets, there is no excuse to have balls lying around.
The health and safety nut in me goes crazy when I see a player come up to the line to serve, and they place the 2nd ball on the baseline. Just wear shorts with pockets and reduce the risk.
I was educated as a coach through the LTA pathway. If you leave balls lying around in a dangerous position on the court during the exam, you will fail.
If you are going to see a bone broken on the pro level, it will likely come from impact damage following a fall or slip.
There is an endless collection of videos compiling falls and slips in tennis. If you want to see some of the falls from the top players, watch this video.
Can You Be Disqualified If The Opponent’s Bone Is Broken?
So, ignoring rumors and forum writers, it is impossible to break large bones with a tennis ball. Let’s make it more exciting and pretend that we can hit a ball to the point where it breaks a bone.
If you manage to hit a ball against me and it breaks a bone, indeed you will be disqualified, and I win?
Yes and no, it depends on the circumstances.
If you have hit the ball in a manner that is deemed to be a code violation, you will likely end up being disqualified.
The ATP code states the following about ball abuse:
“Players shall not violently, dangerously or with anger hit, kick or throw a tennis ball while on the grounds of the tournament site except in the reasonable pursuit of a point during a match (including warm-up)”
If you accidentally serve a ball at your opponent in doubles and break a bone, you will be fine. The shot has been hit in the middle of a point, and thus it would just be regarded as a nasty accident.
The worst incident I can think of involves Dennis Shapovalov in a 2017 Davis Cup tie between Canada and Great Britain. Shapovalov had just been broken in the third set. In a fit of anger, he whacked the ball in his pocket into the air.
Unfortunately for Shapovalov, this ball struck the umpire directly in the eye. It was clear that Shapovalov did not mean to harm the referee. As it was outside of the point and being a reckless shot hit in anger, he was disqualified.
If you watch the video, you can see the look of horror on his face when Shapovalov realizes what he has done.
Many other notable incidents, such as Djokovic hitting a line judge at the 2020 US Open.
If you hit a ball in a fit of rage and it manages to break a bone, you will be disqualified.
Tennis is, on the whole, a very safe sport. The greatest danger is impact damage from falling.
There really is no risk of bone-breaking due to impact from a tennis ball, but perhaps you’ve experienced other injuries?
What is the worst injury you have ever had? Perhaps you disagree with my assessment and think it is possible to break a bone?
Either way, I would love to hear your thoughts.