No doubt, when one thinks of a competitive tennis match, the first performance attributes that come to mind are speed, reaction time, agility, and power. Tennis is a power dominant sport, where high-intensity short duration bouts constitute the majority of play. Researchers have estimated that 95% of the energy utilized in competitive play comes from anaerobic sources such as the adenosine triphosphate creatinephosphate (ATP-CP) system and glycolysis; only 5% is purported to be attributed through aerobic means.

Background

According to the majority of available research, the average length of a point during a tennis match is less than 15 seconds, with trends showing that point durations have dropped within the past decade considerably.

This means that developing quickness, while demonstrating agility in an efficient manner, is crucial to success in competitive tennis. These demonstrations of athletic ability must be repeated with maximal rest time of 20 seconds between bouts according to the rules of tennis. A player must be fast and powerful, and have the endurance to maintain these qualities during an entire match.

Definition of Speed

Speed is defined as the ability to produce force rapidly to move at a high velocity. However, there are multiple aspects to speed:

  • Speed Economy: assures that minimal excess energy is expended (wasted) to perform the athletic movement
  • Speed Strength: provides for production of rapidly implemented force
  • Speed Endurance: allows the athlete to perform the action repeatedly

Generally, speed economy improvements are realized through flexibility – and stability/balance training. Improving speed-strength is the focus in the weight room, while speed endurance training takes place on the court or on the running track.

Definition of Agility

In general, many think of linear speed (one plane) when they want to improve speed, such as a 100 m sprint event. Speed in tennis however occurs in multiple planes (directions), so the speed must be complemented in a successful athlete with an equal dose of agility.

Agility is defined as the ability to move quickly and to change direction rapidly. An athlete who is agile can rapidly accelerate in one direction, quickly decelerate, and speedily accelerate in a different direction.

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Definition of Balance

Balance, the attainment of static equilibrium against all external forces, is a crucial component of agility. An athlete must have the ability to balance his/her body weight against the forces of acceleration and deceleration in order to quickly change direction. For example, tennis players who can balance on one leg while decelerating and simultaneously change the direction of their hips to accelerate in a different direction are demonstrating the aspects of optimal agility. Many of the presented exercises will help the athlete train the body and nervous system to perform these actions.

Definition of Quickness

Quickness is the overall integration of speed, agility, and balance that allows the athlete to cover ground efficiently on the court. An integration of the selected plyometrics/ballistics, speed ladder drills, and agility drills in this section will aid in improving an athlete’s level of quickness.

Speed Training

Speed, as generally applied to human beings, refers to the ability to move at maximum speed for a short duration of time or at a set velocity; one doesn’t always move at maximum speed and one certainly controls how fast to move.

Speed is defined as work x distance/time.

Speed = (Work x Distance)/Time

According to Newton, work is defined as force x distance and power is defined as work/time, which can also be expressed as (force x distance)/time.

Power = Work / Time

= (Force x Distance)/Time

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Therefore, since power is a component of speed (and vice versa) one should work on enhancing power by improving flexibility, balance (stability) and speed. Because stability and flexibility are key components in improving speed economy, one should focus on improving these components first! If one can improve speed economy then overall speed (speed-strength & speed endurance) will improve because less resistive forces are counter-active and if overall speed improves, one becomes more powerful! Therefore, in order to become more powerful, training should initially focus on:

  • Improving flexibility
  • Improving stability/balance
  • Improving speed economy

In general, if one has poor economy in upper-body movement mechanics then it will affect lower-body speed economy and hence reduce maximum speed output. But in tennis, since one is holding a racquet in both hands while running over the tennis court, upper-body movement mechanics are less important in optimizing speed than they are during a 100m sprint event.