I remember the first time I took my friend Brenda down to
our local padel court. She was an avid pickleball player and was keen to try
something different. She realized how different padel was when I put a bright
yellow padel ball in her hand as we walked onto the court.
Are padel balls fuzzy? The bright yellow outer layer of a padel ball, known as the nap, is made from a fuzzy synthetic felt material. The fuzzy texture of a padel ball allows you to place a spin on the ball and makes the curve in the air and grip the court when it bounces.
The bright yellow fuzziness of a padel ball is much more
about function than it is about how the ball looks. Let’s unpack that
functionality in more detail and become slightly better padel players in the
Putting Your Unique Spin On the Game Of Padel
Once you are able to get padel onto ball regularly and
return the ball into the opposition court you can start adding some spin to
your shots. This is when you learn to appreciate the fuzzy outer layer or nap
of the ball.
As you hit the padel ball the fuzzy outer layer of the ball will grip onto the holes in your padel bat. This allows you to impart spin on the ball based on the angle of the face of the padel racket as it passes through the area of impact with the ball.
In the same way, when you play the ball off the back wall
the angled impact of the ball with the wall will impart spin on the ball.
Slowing The Ball Mid-Flight
Although it might not seem so when you are sprinting across the padel court chasing the ball, the fuzzy covering on the ball causes friction between the ball and the air. This has the effect of slowing the ball mid-flight across the court.
This is the same way that having barnacles on the hull of a
ship will increase drag and slow the ship down.
Thinking about it, this makes a lot of sense to me. When I
am playing at the net the ball impacts my padel much faster than when I am
standing near the back wall.
Bend It Like Padel
When you hit a padel ball using spin it will cause the ball to bend through the air. This is true both for creating a side to side curve of the ball as well as vertically. A ball hit with topspin will curve down. A ball hit with a slice will not so much curve up into the air, but rather appear to float a bit as it travels further before starting to drop down to the court.
This is a result of something called the Magnus effect in physics, named after Heinrich Gustav Magnus who first investigated the effect.
A spinning ball will create a spinning vortex of air around it. When the ball flies through the air the air vortex spins off and away from behind the ball. The direction that the vortex spins away from the ball will force the ball to deviate from a straight line in the opposite direction as explained by Newton’s Third Law of physics. So a vortex spinning off upwards will force the ball down and a vortex spinning off to the right will curve the ball to the left.
Changing The Bounce Angle Of The Ball
You will notice the effects of the fuzziness of a padel ball
the most clearly the moment it bounces on a padel court.
The surface of a padel court is AstroTurf. This means a textured synthetic surface that grips the fuzzy exterior of a padel ball really well.
If you are able to hit the ball with even a moderate amount
of spin you can expect the padel ball to have a fairly radical change of
direction when it bounces. This can easily catch your opponent by surprise.
I remember during one of the games I played last week I played a backhand crosscourt ball that bounced about six inches from the sidewall. My opponent positioned herself ready to play the ball as it bounced back at her from the sidewall as it would usually do. However, due to the spin changed direction from the bounce to go parallel to the sidewall, beyond the tip of her outstretched padel bat.
Incorporating Recycled Materials
This is one of the most awesome things about the fuzzy outer layer of padel balls. Most of the brands of padel balls make the fuzzy outer layer entirely from recycled PET plastic bottles. Certainly, all of the balls used in the World Padel Tour tournaments have their outer layer made from recycled plastic.
Not All Fuzzy Is Created Equal
This is a piece of information that caught me by surprise.
Though to be honest the physics of it makes complete sense.
Part of the purpose of the fuzzy outer layer of a padel ball is to slow it down while it flies through the air. Padel balls used at altitude are manufactured with a thicker payer of fuzzy material than padel balls intended for use at sea level. This is done as a way to try and mitigate the lower air pressure at higher altitudes.