The bright yellow tennis balls that we know of came into force not until the 1970s and the British broadcaster had a key role in it.
As technology was evolving, one significant change that the world witnessed was the emergence of color television. Little did we know that the boom of color television also called for some significant changes in the world of sports. One such noteworthy change happened when Sir David Attenborough, the British broadcaster and biologist played a key part in altering the color of tennis balls, per HuffPost. Until the 1970s, the bright optic yellow tennis ball that we are familiar with now wasn't even in existence until the BBC presenter wanted it to suit the visuals of color television.
In 1967, Attenborough worked as the controller of BBC2 and was responsible for introducing color television. He told Radio Times, "We had been asking the government over and over again and they wouldn’t allow us, until suddenly they said, 'Yes, OK, you can have it and what’s more you’re going to have it in nine months’ time,' or whatever it was." He felt that nine months was a very short period to bring about this transition and he had to make crucial planning so that the existing equipment and resources wouldn't be wasted. Most importantly, the British broadcaster wanted to be the first to introduce color television in Europe beating the West Germans to it.
Though he couldn't start a complete color cable service but was able to broadcast a few night-time shows in color. "And it suddenly dawned on me that the one thing we did have was outside broadcast units. I thought, 'Blimey, couldn’t we deploy them?' And then I thought of Wimbledon," he said. "It is a wonderful plot - you’ve got drama, you’ve got everything. It’s a national event, it’s got everything going for it." As per the International Tennis Federation, ever since the beginning of lawn tennis in the 1870s, tennis balls used to be black or white depending on the court's color. However, Attenborough was not fully convinced about the color of tennis balls when he introduced color television.
According to the book 2,024 QI Facts To Stop You In Your Tracks, Attenborough found that the black or white tennis balls weren't evidently noticeable while broadcasting the Wimbledon matches in color. So, with the naturalist's opinion playing a part in it along with some more research that identified that black and white balls weren't visible to color television viewers, in 1972 the ITF introduced optic yellow tennis balls into the rules of tennis. However, Wimbledon continued to use the traditional white tennis balls until 1986 after which they shifted to the yellow ones too, as per ITF.
The yellow tennis ball was just one of the 97-year-old naturalist's endeavors to bring about a change. In 2022, Attenborough addressed his viewers directly on a show aired on BBC One, to spread a powerful message on climate change. The heartbreaking visuals of polar bears and penguins struggling to survive were an eye-opener for every human being on this planet who still hasn't realized the dire impacts of global warming. "To stand any chance of saving what remains of our frozen planet and saving ourselves from the devastating consequences of its loss, we must stick to this commitment and honor it, no matter how challenging it might be," said the biologist urging people to save the planet. "If we can do something about it, then do it. We can do it. We must do it. Then there will be a future for the planet."