Friday, May 18, 2007

Tennismetrics 101

In my last post I mentioned that I have been working on a tennis equivalent of Sabermetrics (the objective, quantitative analysis of baseball performance using statistical data) to help me objectively evaluate tennis performance potential in players who I have coached or am interested in coaching.

In modern tennis, the physical attributes that are most coveted are foot speed and arm speed (aka racket speed). It’s really that simple. But does that mean that the fastest runners make good tennis players? Of course not, you have to have sufficient motor skills—read: hand-eye coordination—to succeed in a game based on ball-striking. But in many parts of the tennis world (especially here in the US), the pendulum swings the other extreme as well where “experts” think that success in tennis is primarily based on ball-striking capability and mental discipline, which is also clearly untrue.

So, what I am looking for in a true pro prospect? Aside from the usual mental and emotional intangibles… Whether the player is male or female, I am mainly interested in seeing players have a very quick, explosive first step toward each shot and having a very fast first serve. Developing the other physical and technical attributes required for pro tennis success is a frankly, a relatively simple process.

Among the players that I have personally coached, the highest rankings achieved by these players conform almost EXACTLY according to how they performed on two standard tests used to evaluate explosiveness and lateral agility.

Meaning, the player who performed the best on both tests is now steadily climbing the ATP rankings list, while the player who was among the slowest on both tests (but is a very good ball-striker) is competing at the NCAA D3 level.

Want to know which two tests I am referring to?...

Well, when you send me a check for a minimum of $45,000 (which is a typical amount spent annually in the US to develop a high-performance tennis player), I will reveal the answer to you. I have a family to feed, after all…

Again, it bears repeating… Tennis has evolved into a true athletic event. Athleticism is what separates the true pro contenders from the pretenders, and even at the highest reaches of the game, athleticism is the single factor that imposes limits on tennis performance, much more so than any other factor that influences a tennis player’s ability to perform in matches—ball striking ability, mental discipline issues, tactical expertise, etc. The potential for improvement in these areas is much, much greater than improving a player’s level of athletic ability. A relatively well-trained athlete that currently runs the 40-yard dash in 6.0 seconds is very unlikely to improve their performance to the 4.5 second level, for example.

Today’s reality is that if you, as a budding professional tennis player do not have the athletic ability that at least somewhat approaches the level of other professional athletes from other sports (the NBA, NFL, Premiership, Bundesliga, etc.) with respect to speed, explosiveness and agility—or, you at least maximize whatever your capacity in these areas are—your dreams of pro success are unlikely to be realized.


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At 5:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the point to having a blog if you don't offer examples of your drills, etc. It seems like all you want to do is talk about how great you are.

At 2:18 AM, Blogger SpeedMaster said...

Thanks for your comment. Let me say that the point of this blog is to raise awareness in the importance of speed as the primary success attribute in modern high-performance tennis, because this vital concept is fundamentally lost on US tennis even at the high-performance level. I might offer a technical tip or drill to illustrate an idea or concept here and there, but this blog is not intended to be a “tips and drills” forum. If you don’t have a higher level understanding of how to be successful in the modern game, of what the true “fundamentals” of the sport are, “tips and drills” are merely ways to pass time and won’t contribute to substantive improvement.


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