Speed and Spin

John Yandell

How do speed and spin combine in a world class serve?

In the past articles in this section, I've reported on the groundbreaking studies on ball speed and spin in the pro game conducted by Advanced Tennis (Click Here.). Now let's take it a step further and see how the two interact in the serves of two of the biggest servers in the history of the modern game: Pete Sampras and Greg Rusedski. Let's compare their combinations of speed and spin, both at the upper reaches of the modern game. But then let's take it a step further and look at the role the type of spin plays. This turns out to be critical in developing an understanding of the so-called "heavy ball."

For both Sampras and Rusedski, Advanced Tennis was fortunate to be able to measure over a dozen first serves, including serves directed to all 4 corners of the service boxes. This gave us a picture of the range of possibilities and speed spin combinations for both players.

Topspin: part of a special combination of speed and spin.

The results of the study show that Pete and Greg produced balls that were virtually identical in terms of the speed and the total amount of initial spin. Despite these similarities, however, there was a significant difference in the quality of the ball they produced. The study showed that this "heavy ball" factor could actually be quantified and measured. The fact is that Pete Sampras produced a ball that was significantly "heavier" at the critical moment of the attempted return. We found that this resulted from the topspin component in his delivery. But topspin in a very special combination with sidespin and high velocity.

Probably everyone who has pondered the mystery of the heavy ball has concluded that it is SOME combination of speed and spin. I've heard it argued that a heavy ball is actually a high velocity laser that clears the net by inches and penetrates the court with speed but little spin. And I've heard it argued that a heavy ball is a screaming western forehand that bounds over your shoulder with ultra topspin. If you go on the various tennis message boards on the web, you can read these kinds of views, and everything else in between. Everyone thinks they know what the heavy ball is when they see it or hit against it, they just don't have any actual facts to support their opinions.

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John Yandell is widely acknowledged as one of the leading videographers and students of the modern game of professional tennis. His high speed filming for Advanced Tennis and Tennisplayer have provided new visual resources that have changed the way the game is studied and understood by both players and coaches. He has done personal video analysis for hundreds of high level competitive players, including Justine Henin-Hardenne, Taylor Dent and John McEnroe, among others.

In addition to his role as Editor of Tennisplayer he is the author of the critically acclaimed book Visual Tennis. The John Yandell Tennis School is located in San Francisco, California.

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