Monday, November 06, 2006

Introduction to Racket Speed... How Fast Are the Pros Anyway?

Hey everyone,

Now we're finally getting to the tennis speed subject that's probably at the forefront of every player's mind: racket speed.

In this New Power Age, racket speed is the sole basis of power in tennis. Pretty much, this equation spells out what power is all about:

racket speed ---> ball speed ---> POWER

So, it's a pretty simple deal. The faster you swing the racket, the faster the ball flies and the more powerful your shots become.

Therefore, if you want to become a more powerful tennis player, you need to modify the power equation like this:

MORE racket speed ---> MORE ball speed ---> MORE POWER

That’s really all there is to it. If you want to be a more powerful player, you need to figure out how to swing your racket faster. That is the bottom line... More racket speed equals more power.

The million dollar question in this New Power Age is therefore: HOW do you increase your racket speed?

And the answer is pretty straightforward...

But, before we get into how to increase your racket speed, you might be wondering what the actual power level of today's pro game is. I think it will be helpful for you to know exactly what racket and ball speeds you need to achieve to be competitive at the pro level.

Well, these days it's pretty simple to find out the actual ball speeds achieved by today's touring pros are--especially with the development of "micro-radar" technologies such as ESPN's "Shot Spot" and the IBM "PointTracker" featured on the US Open website.

The easiest tennis speed information to get these days--many thanks to the mighty Web--is serve speed. These days, the average serve speed at the sport's highest level appears to hover between 115 and 120 MPH on first serve, and around 85 to 90 MPH on second serve.

Thanks mainly to IBM PointTracker, it's getting easier to get speed data on strokes other than serves... These numbers are not "compiled" statistically like they are for serves, so I'll report the range of speeds (high and low) I've seen for the commonly used strokes:

Topspin Forehand: 65 to 110 MPH
Topspin Backhand: 65 to 105 MPH
Slice Backhand: 45 to 60 MPH

Volleys: 20 to 60 MPH

Overheads: 75 to 120

Remember, these are ball speeds I'm reporting here, and to figure out what racket speeds produced these ball speeds for the different strokes, we need to do some simple math.

Basically, given the way that the pros set up their rackets (string type, string tension, racket mass and balance, etc.), a quick and dirty way to estimate the racket speed that produces the reported ball speed is to use these two simple formulae:

For all strokes, multiply the ball speed by 0.70 to estimate the racket speed.

Now that you have some idea of what kind of speeds the pros are capable of producing with their shots, I'll get a bit more into the nitty-gritty of how to increase your racket speed next time.

Oh, by the way…

I thought I would save this bit for the end to give you some additional, but critical food for thought…

I wonder if you realize that the first consequence of swinging faster is that your shots will travel farther than before. I can’t emphasize this point enough.

When you swing faster, the ball will fly farther unless you can generate additional spin to help you control your newfound “distance”.

Now, if we were golfers, that extra “distance” is what we would be looking for in every moment of our waking days…

But because we are tennis players...

We only want the extra speed, NOT the extra “distance"!

So maybe there is more to being a truly powerful player than simply increasing your racket speed.

As a reminder, there is no tennis if you can’t hit your shots inside the court. And, understand that the powers-that-be that control the rules of the sport (the ITF, if you’re wondering) have no plans to increase the size of the court to accommodate your newfound “distance” either.

So, maybe the real bottom line is, if you swing faster, but end up losing control over your shots, there will be absolutely no benefit to becoming more powerful.

That is a simple truth of tennis: power without control is useless.

What good is a 100 MPH groundstroke or 130 MPH serve if it doesn’t go into play? It’s no good at all!

Keep that in mind as we continue on our tennis speed adventures…

But you still want to know how to swing faster, right?

We’ll get to that hot topic next time, so TTFN (“Ta-ta for now”… Thanks, Tigger!)…

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