What Is the Biomechanics of Tennis?
Biomechanics is a holistic field of applied science dedicated to optimizing equipment and training in various sports. The biomechanics of tennis involves the physics of how racquets and balls have evolved in design. It also concerns the proper mechanical movements needed to optimize an athlete's performance and safety, from serve to volley.
Some of the most basic principles of physics are cornerstone considerations for the biomechanics of tennis. These include velocity, acceleration, aerodynamics, force and displacement. When the current racket was designed by Howard Head in the 1960s, he used this information to replace the standard wooden racket with one made of aluminum and a larger head. This change resulted in faster play and a bigger "sweet spot" on the racket face.
The biomechanics of tennis involves an interdisciplinary approach, from anatomy and engineering to orthopedics and even anthropology. The goal is to identify the safest and most effective movements needed for optimum performance in each component of the game. Often, biomechanics experts do in-depth analyses of the best professional players in order to isolate the particular actions that produce the best results.
For each type of movement that coaches teach on the tennis court, biomechanical data is available to show how those lessons are correct. For instance, during a forehand volley, the best results have been achieved when players position themselves as squarely to the net as possible in a so-called open stance, step lightly into the swing, flick the wrist and not the entire arm, and follow completely through after impact. A fluidity of motion has been found to be one of the most effective ways to produce the most speed and best placement of the ball.
The biomechanics of tennis delves into the proper ways in which the serve, forehand, backhand and volley should be achieved. This includes the proper grip for each stroke, how the elbows and hands should be placed, and where the head of the racket should be in relation to the feet. Such biomechanics even delves into the best places to make contact with the ball and where the eyes should be focused at all times — either on the ball itself or beyond it, where the player intends to place the ball.
Just because the biomechanics of tennis attempts to identify the proper ways to play the game does not mean it completely standardizes play. By virtue of coaching differences, physical size restraints, and other factors, players could exhibit success using a variety of different techniques. For instance, former tennis pro John McEnroe bucked biomechanical trends in serving by often facing almost completely away from the net and bending his knees deeply during his toss. This resulted in a hard-to-predict serve that also may have been bad on his back.
It's natural for science to want to narrow everything down to... well, a perfect science. However, when it comes to the biomechanics of tennis as it relates to tennis equipment, the science has gone too far.
If you are not a tennis fan, this probably means nothing to you, but the game has changed greatly because of the innovations in racket design. When professionals played with wooden rackets, they had to depend more on athletic ability and skill with the racket. Points with the wooden racket lasted longer, and players had to work to open up the court so they could hit the ball past their opponents.
With the new rackets, points are shorter and rather than having to move opponents around to win a point, players can simply stand at he baseline and hit the ball past opponents who are actually in the proper position to return the ball. The rackets generate too much power and make the game less about athletics and skill and more about the power of the rackets.
It's interesting that the article mentioned John McEnroe's service stance. I imitated the stance for several years when I was playing tennis. I felt the stance gave me more torque and propelled me into the ball with more force.
I thought, wow, John McEnroe is on to something here. I later heard McEnroe say in an interview that he started standing the way he did because he had hurt his back and felt less pressure with his new and now famous before-serve position. Either way, it worked for me for a while.
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