Mysteries of the Heavy Ball:

By John Yandell

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Do certain players really produce a "heavier" ball than others?

"The Heavy Ball." It's a mythical term. "His ball was so heavy it was like hitting a bowling ball." Most tennis players and coaches have had the experience of playing an opponent whose ball seemed unusually "heavy".

Maybe the ball seemed to get on top of you before you could respond. Maybe the ball felt like it was going to rip the racket out of your hand. Maybe it felt like the ball would by pass your strike zone altogether and bounce over your shoulder or even your head.

Everywhere I go in tennis I hear different versions of the same story. This player or that player had the "secret" of the heavy ball. It was Don Budge, Bjorn Borg, Tomas Muster, or Pete Sampras--or some legendary local college or pro player that you or I never heard of. "This guy hit the heaviest forehand I've ever played against."

So "heavy ball" is a term with a lot of connotations for a lot of people. But does it have any real meaning? Is there in fact any such a thing as a shot that is really "heavier"? If so can we understand it, quantify it, and/or teach it?

If the heavy ball does really exist, it must be some combination of speed, spin, and shot trajectory. But what combination? Is it something that's just natural for a few gifted or lucky players? Is there a way to intentionally maximize the weight of your shots?

In this section of Tennisplayer, we've set out to investigate these questions in a different way. Thanks to new filming and analytic technologies, it is now possible to measure the shot signatures of the top players and to distinguish how they play by the quality of the ball they produce.

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