The French Open tennis tournament is underway, and it’s known for its red clay courts.

But the signature color in the world of pro tennis is probably the color of the balls.

That color is officially known as “optic yellow,” though some of us swear it looks more green than anything else.

That bright color is a relatively new addition to the sport, and one for which you can thank documentary film legend David Attenborough.


For much of tennis history, the balls were white, or sometimes black, and that was fine when people watched on black and white TVs.

Attenborough had been pushing the BBC in the late 1960s to broadcast the Wimbledon championships in color, which he thought would be a perfect showcase for the new technology.

The color broadcasts were, well, more colorful than the black and white ones had been, but there was a problem: viewers in the days of smaller screens and standard definition had a hard time finding the white tennis balls as they flew or bounced over the white court lines.

The International Tennis Federation realized something needed to be done, so they did some research and found the color that would show up best for home viewers was that bright yellow.

In 1972 the ITF decided that regulation tennis balls could be optic yellow or white.

TV-friendly tournaments began adopting the brighter color balls soon after, though Wimbledon stuck to the more traditional white balls until 1986.

Today even the All England Club has the optic yellow balls.

Interesting side note: some of the used balls from Wimbledon are given to animal conservationists to help protect endangered harvest mice.

They hide from their predators inside the balls!

The community of Fitzgerald, Georgia is building a 62 foot steel topiary chicken, with help from a Tennessee based artist known as Topiary Joe.

It’s intended to draw tourists to town, and it’s apparently working: the mayor says he’s heard from couples who want to sleep inside the giant chicken statue for a night.

Can’t wait to read those online reviews.

The reason tennis balls are yellow — or maybe green (CNN)

‘New balls, please’ for mice homes (BBC)

‘This is not a model kit’: 62 ft. Fitzgerald chicken starts to take form (WALB)

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Photo by Old Photo Profile via Flickr/Creative Commons