The HEAD TOUR XT is a brand new premium tennis ball. I talked to one of the guys behind it, ex-pro and International Tour Manager Johannes Ager.
Johannes Ager used to play on the ATP Tour and reached a career-high ranking of #266. Sadly, he had to retire from the sport due to injuries at age 21. While he studied international business, he still played some tournaments and team matches in Bundesliga and Serie A in Italy. Johannes has been working for HEAD for 3,5 years as a part of the pro player team and he is also responsible for ball development and ball product management. That is what it was interesting to hear from him about the process of the new HEAD Tour XT ball.
HEAD XT Balls – Interview with Johannes Ager
The core compound of the HEAD TOUR XT is completely new and has been developed over a period of almost 2 years. The goal was to develop a ball with great control that gives players a unique “ball pocket feeling”. We, therefore, tested a huge amount of different compound formulations (on the court and also in the lab) and were working with a specialized external rubber Institute, in order to make sure to find the secret formula in the end! :)
What did you try to improve from the previous Tour balls?
The feedback from the market was always that the TOUR ball is quite lively and fast. Therefore conditions where the performance of the TOUR ball is appreciated are a bit slower (moderate temperatures and slower courts). So we were basically looking for a ball that is still good to control, even if the conditions are making the game quite fast (hot temperatures, faster courts). Therefore we developed the TOUR XT. So with the TOUR and the TOUR XT we do have two great options to compensate for those different conditions.
This ball was two years in development and testing. What is involved in the process?
The most important thing is the feedback we get from players during on-court testing. In addition, we created a test process in the lab. The most important and relevant lab tests we applied were the Hysteresis measurement and the ACOR test. The Hysteresis test is done with the Zwick Machine. At the ACOR test, you shoot a ball on a fixed racquet with pre-defined velocities and afterward you compare incoming vs out coming velocities. The key is that both tests give you information on the energy efficiency of the ball. As we wanted to have a ball with a very nice impact feel and good control, we were, of course, looking for a ball that loses a bit more energy on impact (deforms more on impact) compared to the already existing TOUR ball.
Official ball in the Rio ATP tournament – what are the next steps?
The Tour XT ball is already the official ball of Rio Open. How difficult is it to become an official ball of an ATP tournament?
The ATP is super cooperative in this context. The precondition for being the official ball at an ATP tournament is to get the ITF approval. We were 100% convinced that we did all our “homework” and of course also tested the TOUR XT on lower level tournaments before. Still, Rio was a great test for us and of course, we were a bit nervous, as the feedback we get from players at such a level is super important for us.
How do you measure the success of these balls? Sales only or some other metric too?
Sales is a very important indicator of how successful a ball is. But also the feedback we get from pro players is a super important KPI. Usually, when the feedback from players at this level is positive, a ball will also be well received on the market. Since the players’ feedback (not only but also) in Rio was really good, we, of course, have high expectations that the TOUR XT will also be successful on the market.
Do you any other exciting project you are working on?
On the player side, we always have interesting projects we follow but I can’t share any details as long as it is not official
Also in the ball area, there are super interesting topics to work on, no matter if it is the ball itself or the packaging. We are always trying to improve the status quo, listen to the feedback from the market and find the solutions to make the game of tennis even more enjoyable.
Thanks for your time, Johannes!