Monday, October 29, 2007

Informal stroke speed survey of US tennis-continued

Recently, I had the opportunity to continue my survey of serve and groundstroke speed in US tennis by measuring the stroke speeds of high school varsity (“HS”) players that participated in a regional qualification tournament for my home state’s 5A Division (overall) State Championships.

To give you a bit of background on the players involved, there were players from 10 different high schools trying to qualify for the State 5A Boys’ Tennis Championships in 7 divisions: Singles #1 to #3 and Doubles #1 to #4. So there was a wide range of players from a variety of competitive backgrounds from those players who only compete for their high school team during the high school season to a sectional Top 20-ranked player.

If I was to describe the approximate playing levels of the 30 players whose speeds I measured, I would estimate that the majority of players would probably be rated somewhere between NTRP 3.7 (by this I mean between NTRP 3.5 and 4.0) all the way to about NTRP 5.0.

Anyway, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty…

The average 1st serve speed of these HS players was 68.9 MPH.

The average 2nd serve speed was 60.8 MPH.

The average forehand speed (during neutral rallies) was 46.1 MPH.

The average forehand speed (during neutral rallies) was 46.9 MPH.

Now, let’s put these speeds into some context…

NCAA Division 1 vs. HS Tennis

1st serve: 90.5 MPH (NCAA) vs. 68.9 MPH (HS)

2nd serve: 78.5 MPH (NCAA) vs. 60.8 MPH (HS)

Forehand: 78.5 MPH (NCAA) vs. 46.1 MPH (HS)

Backhand: 73.9 MPH (NCAA) vs. 46.9 MPH (HS)

By now, I’m pretty sure that shouldn’t be surprising to you that direct measurements of stroke speed confirm the perception that there should be a pretty big difference in the stroke speeds between college and high school tennis players.

Effectively there is, on average:

  • A 20 MPH speed gap between the first and second serves of the typical male collegiate and the better high school varsity player.
  • A nearly 30 MPH speed gap between the groundstrokes of the typical male collegiate player and the better high school varsity player.
  • A 40 to 50 MPH speed gap* between the first and second serves of the top tour pros and the better high school varsity player.

*see my earlier post titled "Memo to American college and junior tennis players: Find another 30 MPH ASAP!" for serve speed data from the top ATP pros.

What I find more than ironic in these measurements is the fact that there are some, perhaps many players, parents and coaches in the US who think that there are more than enough high school varsity tennis players to populate the rosters of collegiate varsity tennis programs and so there is no need to offer collegiate playing opportunities and scholarships to international (read “foreign”) tennis players.

While it’s true that from the perspective of sheer numbers, there are more than enough high school varsity players for college tennis coaches to choose from. From the perspective of tennis ability, the reality is that there are only around 200 to 300 total, legitimate male or female college tennis prospects that emerge from either the US junior and high school tennis ranks each calendar year.

What’s the take-home lesson then? The “better” high school varsity tennis player has no realistic chance of playing for a truly competitive collegiate tennis program, and currently the true route to the collegiate level continues to run through (National) junior tennis and not high school tennis.

For those of you who are familiar with the current competitive tennis pathways here in the US, what I’ve written about in this post is hardly news to you. But for others who aren’t so familiar about how to advance themselves within the American competitive scene, you need to realize that high school varsity tennis competition is really a side or back door to collegiate tennis at best.

The proverbial “front door” to the higher levels of tennis here definitely runs through USTA tournament competition where the goal is to qualify for the National Junior or ITF Championship events held nationwide throughout the calendar year.

And maybe next time I attend a high school varsity tennis match or tournament, I think I will strongly consider measuring the groundstroke speeds of the players using a calendar instead of a radar gun… ;)


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At 9:11 AM, Blogger Bob said...


Great data!

You mentioned the wide range of skills among the high school players you measured. In a future post would you be willing to break out your data to show the difference in ball speeds between the couple best players and the run of the mill HS player?

Also, how much variance is there in the Division I ball speed data? Having measured, using a RADAR gun and video analysis, the serve speeds of several Division I male players (from one team), I'm surprised that the average first serve speed you found for Division I players is just 90 mph. My measurements found first serves to be on average more than 10 mph higher than that. My measurements were in practice, though, and not in competition so that might explain much of the difference. For instance, the players were simply hitting hard first serves, not mixing up the speed and spin as they do in matches.

Thanks for the great information.

Bob Bateman

At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Eric said...

Nice Blog,

You might just be the man I looking for. I'm interested in your speed calculations. First can I assume they are average "peak" (radar gun)speeds that you are quoting. Not the average speed from one end of the court to the other. From what I understand the speed of the ball reduces by almost 50% by the time it gets to the far baseline after the bounce.

In a previous blog you posted:

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 MPH

Again I assume these are 'peak" speed averages? Are they also for Pro players or Juniors?

I'm interested because of a little research project that I'm doing.

Thanks again for your blog. Happy Tennis


At 5:58 PM, Blogger SpeedMaster said...


Thanks for the kind words about the blog.

The speeds quoted in your comment(and from an earlier blog post) are peak ball speeds of male tour pros measured and reported by IBM PointTracker at the 2006 US Open.

PointTracker is a great public source for ball speed data.

You are correct about the changes in ball speeds during its flight, pre- and post-bounce.

And another interesting fact about ball speed relative to its flight--and bounce--path is that it is well documented that shots struck with heavy spin decelerate *less* than shots hit with less spin (i.e. what in the US is called hitting a "clean" ball).

If I may ask, what's your little project about?

If I can help in any way, just email me ( anytime.


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