The quintessential, sine qua non of good tennis is good racket to ball contact. And good ball contact hinges upon correct, consistent ball watching.
Of the many great champions I've studied, there are many great ball watchers. I have seen Roger Federer play live more than forty times. His ball watching ability and technique stand out even among other greats.
There's no doubt in my mind that Roger Federer is the greatest ball watcher of the modem era. I believe ball watching has been pivotal to Federer's success and popularity.
Because he is the best example of great ball watching, I decided to study Roger Federer's technique in depth. I took an evidence based approach by studying over 1500 Federer photographs and tried to discern objectively what he is doing during ball watching.
But what do we mean by ball watching? The scientific fact is that racket to ball contact cannot be truly seen because it is too rapid for the human nervous system to process in real time. However, I believe it can be perceived within the limits of nerve transmission speed. And better perception of contact translates to better contact.
I began writing the book that is the basis for this article - The Art and Science of Ball Watching - in August of 2019 and finished it in January of 2021. In a sense, though, I have been working on it since I started playing tennis fifty-five years ago at the age of five. In high school I played four years of varsity tennis in addition to sanctioned USTA junior tournaments. I probably reached a 4.5-5.0 level. I considered playing small college tennis, but by then I was burned out on the sport, and knew that my pre-med studies wouldn't allow time for college tennis.
But tennis was in my blood, and I started playing again with a passion after medical school. During this time, I really started to study the technical aspects of the game.
My idea for the book started out with various technical ideas that I had been kicking around by watching great players over several generations. In the end I came to the conclusion that good racket to ball contact depends on good ball watching. I wrote the book to teach myself how to see racket to ball contact and my hope is it can help you do the same.
The Art and Science of Ball Watching
The Art and Science of Ball Watching takes the reader through the scientific principles involved in tennis ball watching, with a focus on those aspects of Physical and Biologic science that facilitate the ability to see ball contact.