Why the fascination with the world fastest serve? The science behind it. - UBITENNIS
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Why the fascination with the world fastest serve? The science behind it.

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TENNIS – Commentators and fans love statistics and new records. In tennis people often think about how many Grand Slams have players won? What was the longest match in history? But there is also a fascination about who in both the men’s and women’s game have hit the fastest serves. By Jonny Fraser (iTPA Master Tennis Performance Specialist, Owner Science in Tennis), Mike James (GPTCA International Tennis Coach)

 

Commentators and fans love statistics and new records. In tennis people often think about how many Grand Slams have players won? What was the longest match in history? But there is also a fascination about who in both the men’s and women’s game have hit the fastest serves. The serve itself is an incredibly complex technical skill requiring large amounts of practice. Tactically players change the serve to provide variety and the importance of the point will also be a deciding factor. Three types of serve can be hit, these include the slice, flat or topspin serve all which have varied bounces, trajectories and the amount of speed which can be hit on the ball. The fastest serves tend to be hit flatter, with both slice and spin slowing the ball down slightly to improve control. The recently improving Samuel Groth of Australia hitting a recorded 163.4mph (262.3kph) currently holds the title in the men’s game. Despite this record not officially being recognised by the ATP it appears to be the suggested fastest speed. Last week Sabine Lisicki broke a new record in the women’s game at Stanford hitting a 131mph (210.8kph) in the first round. Despite her losing the match many sports websites and national newspapers reported about her new world record and this led to the question why the fascination? Reading through a number of the articles online and news reports there simply appears to be an amazement that the human body can produce so much force and speed. This leads onto another question, how can players effectively and consistently hit serves at those kind of speed and avoid injuries.

Mark Kovacs, Executive Director of International Tennis Performance Association (www.itpa-tennis.org) and Todd Ellenbecker (2011) released an article considering the 8 stages of the serve. Kovacs and Ellenbecker (2011) consider the following three phases and eight stages of the serve. The first phase, preparation consists of the period from when the player starts to the point in which the player is in a position with the non dominant arm fully extended with the ball released and the racket tip pointing down behind the body. This include four smaller stages which include start, release, loading and cocking. The second phase is acceleration, which is the point when the racket accelerates and contacts the ball for a very short period of time (Kovacs and Ellenbecker, 2011). Finally the last phase is the follow through which consists of the deceleration of the racket across the opposite side of the body and the finish, where the player will be ready for their next shot. Ultimately the eight stages of the serve as identified by Kovacs and Ellenbecker (2011) demonstrate the importance of the body to be synchronised and to be fluid optimising the bodies kinetic chain. This is the ability to transfer weight and distribute force evenly from the floor through the whole body to contact.

There is no doubt that an understanding of biomechanics providing excellent technical coaching is important, alongside giving the player the opportunity to find their own individual style and rhythm. However from a conditioning point of view, strength, power, robustness and proprioception of the body are all critical to allow players to reach these exceptional speed as show by Lisicki last week. Strength exercises which use the kinetic chain of the body such as deadlifts, squats and single leg squat varieties are certainly great exercises to develop strength for any tennis player. It is important to note however that dramatic increases in strength will benefit the serve but may only lead to marginal gains in the service speed. To coincide with this the ability to transfer strength in a high velocity action exercises may involve the use of medicine ball throws, jump based exercises with some form of initial rotation and the use of Olympic lifting. To reduce the risk of injury players must have robustness around common areas of injury which in the tennis players include the shoulder, ankles, hips and wrists. This includes the use of exercises which address imbalances such as weakness and tightness in the shoulder, or alternatively work on proprioception (the sense or feel of the body within a certain position) to help improve effective loading and landing for example in the ankle if players are looking to prevent ankle sprains.

Overall the ability to hit serves at these high speeds is not uncommon, but involves excellent coaching including a strong understanding of the biomechanics and motions of the serve as explained in the three phases (Kovacs and Ellenbecker, 2011). Furthermore a physical program which focuses on developing strength and power through the kinetic chain and improving robustness to particular areas of common injury is also important. However it must be said that for all this to happen the body must be fluid and synchronised to maximise every part of the nervous system and every muscle required, otherwise the bodies true potential will never be found.

 

Jonathan Fraser (iTPA Master Tennis Performance Specialist and Owner www.scienceintennis.com)

Reference

Kovacs, M. and Ellenbecker, T. (2011). An 8-stage model for evaluating the tennis serve. Implications for performance enhancement and injury prevention. Sports Health, 3 (6), 504-513.

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Diego Schwartzman Receives Threats On Social Media Following Shock Davis Cup Defeat

The world No.15 is the latest player to speak out about recieving abusive messages on social media.

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The weekend has been an emotional rollercoaster for Diego Schwartzman, who suffered ‘one of the worst’ losses of his career before helping secure victory for his country in their Davis Cup tie against Belarus.

 

On Saturday the world No.15 was stunned by unranked 18-year-old Daniil Ostapenkov who is yet to play a professional match on the pro Tour. Ostapenkov is currently ranked 63 in the world on the junior circuit. The comprehensive victory shocked the Argentinian team who was hosting the tie at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.

Despite the shock upset, Schwartman managed to redeem himself the following day when he defeated Alexander Zgirovsky 6-1, 6-2. That victory handed his country an unassailable 3-1 lead in their tie and secured their place in the 2022 Davis Cup qualifiers which will take place next March.

Not only playing Davis, but in Buenos Aires, with a lot of people you don’t see, it’s not easy. My level can be and has to be much better. After the game on Saturday I had a difficult day in the spirit of being able to get up and enjoy with the group,” La Nacion quoted Schwartzman as saying.
“The most normal thing was that we won the series. It’s what everyone expected. But when you have a very difficult day at work like it was on Saturday and then you win, it excites you because you have some internal things withheld.”

Between those two matches, Schwartzman revealed that he was trolled on social media by some people unhappy about his loss in the tie. The 2020 French Open semi-finalist said he received criticism and even threats from some asking him to leave his home country. Something he admits affected him at times.

“It was one of the worst days of my career,” Schwartzman commented on his loss to Zgirovsky. “I lost to an unranked, inexperienced player. All that already affects (me) a lot. Although 80 or 90 percent of the people are always encouraging (me), there was a minority who criticized me with bad intentions.’
“I received threats, insults and requests not to return to Argentina. More or less, it affects (me)”.

Schwartzman is not the first player to speak out about online abuse. During the US Open Shelby Rogers said she was expecting to receive ‘death threats’ following her loss to Emma Raducanu who went on to win the title. Sloane Stephens has also previously spoken out about being the victim of racism online.

The 29-year-old says he has previously tried to interact with those who have trolled him on social media to find out why they are doing so.

Sometimes I start to answer some messages and I ask those people if they realize what they are sending,” Schwartzman said during his press conference. “The vast majority apologize and say they had not realized it. But at the moment it hurts. That very ill-intentioned criticism is the only bad thing about social networks.”

Schwartzman has won four ATP titles and earned more than $10M in prize money so far in his career.

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Spanish Veteran Feliciano Lopez Addresses Future On The Tour

23 years after he played his first main draw match on the ATP Tour, Lopez says his longevity in the sport has been achieved with the help of of some luck.

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Feliciano Lopez of Spain is pictured during the semi-final of ATP Fever-Tree Championships tennis tournament at Queen's Club in west London on June 20, 2019.

Feliciano Lopez has dismissed any speculation that he could retire in the coming weeks after saying he is taking life on the Tour in his stride.

 

The 39-year-old Spaniard is currently the second oldest player in the world’s top 200 after Roger Federer, who is a year older than him. Lopez made his ATP Tour debut at the 1998 Barcelona Open which was before the birth of Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. In June he became the 10th active player to record his 500th win on the Tour.

Currently ranked 111th in the world, some are starting to wonder how much longer Lopez will continue playing. So far this season he has achieved a win-loss record of 9-19 with his best performance being a run to the quarter-finals of the Mallorca Open which was held on the grass. It was in Mallorca where he defeated Karen Khachanov who is the only top 30 player he has beaten so far in 2021.

I play year-by-year, the last 6-7 years have been like this, a tennis player at that age cannot think about extending his career. After turning 30 I have been lucky, I have obtained the best results of my career,” Lopez told reporters on Friday.
It is not very common for players my age, at (almost) 40 years to continue playing in the best tournaments.” He added.

Throughout his career, Lopez has impressively played in a record 78 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments dating back to the 2002 French Open. During that period he has reached the quarter-finals of a major tournament on four occasions.

“I don’t play to break records, what makes me most excited is to continue playing Grand Slams. For me, maintaining that record (78 consecutive Grand Slams played) is very nice, but more to follow. Being competitive,” he commented on the milestone.
“It is difficult for someone to overcome it because it is 20 years in a row without missing a great one. I have had continuity and enormous luck. Those of my generation are practically all retired.”

Away from the court, the former world No.12 is the current tournament director of the Madrid Open. Making him one of a few players historically to both be playing on the Tour and managing a tournament at the same time. Recently it was confirmed that Madrid will continue hosting it’s combined event until at least 2030 following a renewed agreement between the city council and the Madrid trophy promotion.

Lopez has won a total of seven ATP titles so far in his career and has earned more than $18M in prize money.

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ATP Moves Closer To Staging Five More 12-Day Masters 1000 Events After Board Approval

Changes are coming to the men’s Tour which includes a brand new ‘profit-sharing formular’ for players.

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Masters tournaments in North America, Europe and Asia are set to be expanded over the coming months after the ATP Board recently approved some ‘key aspects’ of their strategic plan.

 

In a letter issued to players, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said an agreement has been reached concerning a variety of topics, which include the expansion of various Masters 1000 events. It is understood that the plan is for Rome, Madrid, Canada, Cincinnati and Shanghai to be increased to 12-day events instead of just one week. Putting them more in line with Indian Wells and Miami. Tennis.com reports that under the new structure, ATP 250 events will also take place during the second week of those tournaments and they could receive a subsidy from the ATP Tour, provided by extra fees paid by the Masters tournaments.

Masters 1000 events are the third highest-ranked category events in men’s tennis after Grand Slams and the ATP Finals in terms of prize money and ranking points on offer. The series was first introduced back in 1990 but it wasn’t until 2009 that the name ‘Masters 1000’ was born. The number represents how many ranking points the winner receives.

Besides the proposed changes to the Masters series, the Board has also given a green light to “a new Profit-Sharing formula” and “long-term prize money levels.” The prize money increase is reportedly said to be 2.5 percent of a base level, plus a bonus pool with a 50 percent share of the collective profit of the Masters events.

“This represents significant progress for our sport and the way our player and tournament members operate under the equal partnership of the ATP Tour. It is only through the spirit of this partnership, transparency, and alignment of interests that we can truly maximise your potential and switch our focus to the competition we face in the border sports and entertainment landscape,” Gaudenzi wrote in his letter to players.

Part of the plan also include making changes to ATP Media, who are in charge of broadcasting the events. At present it is currently jointly owned by the Tour and each of the Masters 1000 events. However, in the future it has been proposed that those tournaments trade in their ownership rights for shares in ATP media. Exact details about this process have not been publicly disclosed and it is unclear if all of the tournaments would agree to such a move.

The ATP also wants to create a ‘Tennis Data Innovations’ which will be an independent entity.

All of these proposed changes are still subject to further agreement around additional matters. The ATP have been working on details of their strategic plan for the past 18 months.

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