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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Fabio Fognini Hits Out At ‘Inexplicable’ Disqualification From Barcelona Open

The world No.27 has protested his innocence after losing his temper over a call made by an official.

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Italy’s Fabio Fognini describes the decision to kick him out of the Barcelona Open on Wednesday as a ‘shock’ and has vowed to look further into the matter.

 

The 33-year-old was taking on Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles in the second round of the tournament where he was trailing the match 0-6, 4-4. After losing his temper, the world No.27 is said to have been verbally abusive towards a lines official and was subsequently defaulted from the match for his behaviour. The incident occurred over a line call decision which Fognini didn’t agree with.

On court, he tried to protest his innocence by telling the umpire ‘I didn’t say anything’ but it failed to overturn the decision. Leaving Fognini fuming as he broke his racket on purpose.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the Italian continued to protest his innocence in the match and said he would ‘investigate’ the matter. It is unclear what he is referring to but players are allowed to make an appeal against any fine if they feel it is unjust.

“I’m really surprised with the ATP, especially the chair umpire and the supervisor, because I was here to play tennis, I was here to fight in the match, and even if I was losing, doesn’t matter,” he said. “But what they did to me was something inexplicable, so I’m going to investigate it, but nothing more, I paid for something that I didn’t do, that’s the first and clearest thing that everybody has to know.”

Zapata Miralles said he was initially unaware of what was going on in his clash with Fognini as he was focusing on closing out the match. Barcelona is only the seventh ATP main draw he has played in so far in his career.

“I was on the other side of the court, I wasn’t listening to be honest,” Tennis Majors quoted the 24-year-old as saying afterwards. “When I saw the referee on the court, I asked the umpire what’s going on. But I was focused on my work on the court, I was thinking on the next point, the next game, on things I had to focus on.”

Fognini has never previously been defaulted from a tennis match but he is no stranger to controversy. At the 2017 US Open he was fined $24,000 for insulting a female chair umpire and at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships he was heard saying ‘I wish a bomb would explode on this club.’ He later apologised for his remarks.

Zapata Miralles will play compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta in the third round.

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Matteo Berrettini beats Marco Cecchinato in all-Italian match in Belgrade

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Number 2 seed Matteo Berrettini beat Marco Cecchinato 6-4 6-3 after 1 hour and 21 minutes in an all-Italian match to advance to the quarter finals at the Serbia Open in Belgrade. 

 

Berrettini broke serve three times and saved all three break points he faced showing that he is returning to his best form after an abdominal injury, which forced him ahead of his fourth-round match at the Australian Open. 

Berrettini saved three break points in the fourth game before earning his first break at 30 in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead. Berrettini dropped just five points in his final three service games to win the first set 6-4. 

Berrettini went up a set and a break at 15 and never looked back in his next service games. He sealed the match 6-3 with his third break in the ninth game. 

This year Berrettini earned three top 15 wins to lead Italy to the ATP Cup in Melbourne. Last week he lost his opening match against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. 

“Confidence is something that goes away, it comes back. For sure I know that is my level. I know that I can play that kind of tennis. I work hard to be there, to be in good shape. It was obviously a shame. I work hard to be there, to be in good shape. It obviously was a shame. I was sad about my injury, but I know that I can play well on clay, on grass and on hard-court”, said Berrettini. 

Berrettini set up a match against Serbia’s Filip Krajnovic, who eased past Nikola Milojevic 6-1 6-1. Berretini defeated Krajinovic in their only previous head-to-head match in the Budapest final in 2019. 

“It’s going to be very tough. He is top 10, he is a huge champion. He is very tough to play against. I played him once in the final of an ATP Tour event and he beat me, so I know how to play. It’s going to be very tricky, very tough, but I will give my best playing on my court. We see how it goes”, said Krajinovic. 

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Felix Auger Aliassime battles back to beat Lorenzo Musetti in Barcelona

Felix Auger-Aliassime reached the third round in Barcelona, where he will meet Denis Shapovalov.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime (@BATennisCom - Twitter)

The Canadian needed three sets and over two hours to get the win and set up a third round encounter with his good friend Denis Shapovalov.

 

Felix Auger Aliassime needed two hours and five minutes to beat the Italian Lorenzo Musetti 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 hitting nine aces in the win and setting up his next match with fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

“It’s not always easy, to be honest, now I’m sitting here, I am happy that I won but things were difficult at some point in the match, I was facing breakpoints in the second set again and things got tight so trying to stay calm, trying to find solutions that was the main goal, I mean there was some ups and downs but in the end, I’m happy with the way the match ended, sometimes your not playing your best tennis but you gotta believe and have courage and fight through”.

The Italian got off to a great start earning a breakpoint in the opening game of the match but the Montreal native was able to save it and hold serve. At 1-1, the world number 20 was under pressure once again but hung in to save the breakpoint.

The Canadian got his first breakpoint of the match at 2-1 but this time it was the Italian who would do a good job of saving it. The very next game the world number 87 went back to work trying to get the early break and this time he was able to pull it off with a superb lob to take a 3-2 lead.

He would serve out the first set to take it 6-4 and a comeback was required if the Canadian didn’t want to be upset at the hands of the Italian.

The world number 87 kept it going in the beginning of the second set earning more breakpoints in the opening game but the Canadian would save both and hold serve.

The very next game the number 10 seed would set up two breakpoints with a stunning forehand winner and would break for the first time in the match to take a 2-0 lead.

The next game the Canadian struggled on serve and the Italian earned two more breakpoints and broke right back to go back on serve. At 3-2 the Montreal native would have another chance to break but the world number 87 would save it again.

At 4-3 the Italian started to get tight and the world number 20 earned three more chances to break and this time would break through to take a 5-3 lead and serve out the second set to send it into a decider.

Clearly the momentum was with the Canadian and he would earn three more breakpoints in the opening service game of the third set and broke to take a 1-0 lead.

After consolidating the break he would earn three more breakpoints and break once more to go up a double break. At the changeover Musetti called for the trainer and took a medical timeout to have work on his lower back.

The Canadian didn’t give in and after holding serve once again he would earn more breakpoints and break one more time and would serve out the match to win the decider with a 6-0 bagel.

As mentioned this win sets up a match with Denis Shapovalov on Thursday with both players meeting a total of four times and each player has two wins.

After the match Auger Aliassime spoke about the matchup and gave Ubitennis his thoughts.

“I feel like we played quite a lot lately and the past year so It’s always a challenge to play him, hopefully, I can play a good match, we can have a great battle but it’s always a tough task so I’ll try to rest and get ready as good as I can for the match tomorrow”.

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