Monday, July 09, 2007

Memo to American College and Junior Players: Find another 30 MPH ASAP!

Several posts ago, I summarized the serve speeds I measured for male and female National junior competitors at the Easter Bowl Championships in Palm Springs in April. I was able to measure serve speeds from players in every age group represented at that event, except for the players in the 18-and-under Boys event, so I have been looking for an opportunity to gather some serve speed numbers from that age division.

Recently, a National Open Junior event was held in Denver for the Boys 18s division, and I used that opportunity to measure the serve speeds (first and second) of the participants there. The tournament field was reasonably strong for a National Open event as the Top 8 seeds in the tournament were all ranked inside the Top 120 nationally, and the Top 5 seeds were ranked inside the Top 60 nationally. There were players ranked as high as #11 in the National 18s and players ranked in the 1500s as well. So there was a wide range of competitive, 18-and-under American junior players represented in this event.

I measured the serve speeds of 34 of the 64 participants during live matchplay, and the results I found were interesting to say the least.

The fastest first serve was 118 MPH, and the fastest second serve was 94 MPH (both by the same player).

The slowest first serve was 63 MPH and the slowest second serve was 60 MPH.

The average first serve speed of the 34 players surveyed was 91 MPH.

The average second serve speed of the 34 players surveyed was 71 MPH.

30% of the total number of first serves measured (200+) exceeded 100 MPH.

70% of the players hit a first serve over 100 MPH.

15% of the players hit a first serve over 110 MPH.

33% of the players hit a second serve over 80 MPH.

What to make of these speed measurements?

The “good news” is… If I were to compare these to the serve speeds I measured at this National Open tournament to those I have measured at the NCAA Division 1 level, these serve speeds of the 34 juniors are directly comparable in terms of both average first and second serve speed. Even the fastest and slowest serves are very similar, if not identical those of D1 players. And, it isn’t too surprising that these junior players share the same serve speed characteristics as the D1 players, as the vast majority of players who are Top 6 or Top 8 in D1 men’s tennis programs are recruited from the players who have high national singles rankings and typically participate in high-level USTA National Junior tournaments such as this National Open.

The "bad news" is… If you compare the serve speeds of these typical US college and junior players to those at the ATP level, the difference is stunning. The typical US college or junior player serves, on average, around 30 MPH SLOWER than a successful ATP player.

For a quick and dirty comparison to the ATP pros, I compiled the serve stats for 16 of the 32 players who made it to the 3rd round of the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon (upper half of the draw including Federer, Roddick and Gasquet). This is what I found:

The average first serve speed of these 16 male pros was 119 MPH (compared to 91 MPH for our sample of nationally-ranked under 18 boys).

The average second serve speed of these 16 male pros was 99 MPH (compared to 71 MPH for our sample of nationally-ranked under 18 boys).

On average, the ATP men serve around 30 MPH faster, on average for both first and second serves, than the typical American male high-performance (college or nationally-ranked junior) player.

30 MPH!! On average!! Which means that the difference in serve speed could be as much as 40 MPH faster in some cases.

Given this astonishing difference in serve speed capability between the established ATP players and the typical American college or junior player, is it truly realistic for the great majority of young competitive tennis players here in the US to be competitive at the pro level when they are giving away at least 30 MPH on serves alone? Are their pro dreams even reachable?

At the very least, what can they do about closing the speed gap?

If you ask the tennis coaching and conditioning establishment (USTA, USPTA, PTR, etc.) here in the US how to increase your serve speed, they’ll tell you that you have only two alternatives: 1) improve your technique and/or 2) lift weights, pull rubber bands, and throw medicine balls to increase your strength. Well, the former alternative (changing technique) simply takes too long, and the overwhelming evidence from the sports science realm is that the latter (conventional, strength-focused conditioning exercises) simply doesn’t increase your racket, therefore, serve speed.

What now?

If you’ve been reading this blog with any regularity, you already know what the solution to the “I want/need more serve speed problem" is: train with the Tennis SpeedChain.


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At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to know more about how you collect your numbers. Is it radar or video extrapolation? I'm guessing radar, which would account for the error in your results. Good Div I servers are 15-20 mph faster than you report if measured in the same fashion as the pros.

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous said...

Would you say there is a relationship between the players' serves and his or her height?

At 1:11 AM, Anonymous Research Papers said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.


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