How Elite Tennis Players Crank Out Serves at 150 MPH

WIRED | 7/12/2019 | Robbie Gonzalez
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It’s early afternoon in Orlando, the hottest time of day on a characteristically sultry Wednesday in Florida, a state famous for its perennially warm, wet, shirt-soaking conditions, which just so happen to be pretty much perfect for playing tennis.

Or so I’m told.

End - Court - Ulises - Blanch - Athletes

I’m standing—sweating, squinting, panting—at the opposite end of a court from 21-year-old Ulises Blanch, one of the many elite athletes who train here at the USTA’s National Campus. I’m here to learn about the upper limits of the serve, the most nuanced stroke in tennis and one of Blanch’s specialties. I tell him I’m ready. He toes the baseline, lobs the ball into the air, and sends it bolting past me. “One hundred thirty-one,” says the speed-tracking system. From across the court I see Blanch grin. Sadistically, I think. It’s his seventh serve, and his seventh ace.

Blanch possesses a tremendous serve, yet it remains far from the most powerful. It’s been clocked at 138 miles per hour, which, thirty years ago, would have put him in the running for the biggest hitter in all of tennis. But serve speeds at the professional level have been climbing for decades. The 1990s saw the first official serves in the 140s. By the early 2000s, they were in the 150s. The fastest serve ever recorded came in 2012, when Australian Sam Groth was measured walloping a ball at 163.7 mph. But the Association of Tennis Professionals doesn’t recognize Groth’s serve, because he delivered it at a challenger event, where, according to an ATP spokesperson, serve-speed guns don’t adhere to the same standards as the ones used in tournament play. The fastest serve recognized by the ATP was delivered at 2016’s Davis Cup by American John Isner, at a speed of 157 mph.

Factors - Speed - Physiologist

“There are three big factors in optimizing for speed,” says physiologist...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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