While watching the Wimbledon Men's Final between Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych, I heard NBC broadcasting legend Dick Enberg ask John McEnroe about a comment made by Andy Murrey after his semifinal loss that "Nadal's ball just feels so heavy on my racket."
"What?" Enberg asked, "does that mean?" McEnroe's insightful response was, "sometimes the ball just feels heavy on your racket, like when a hitter in baseball says the ball feels heavy on their bat."
Perhaps a high-speed photographic study conducted on the serves of ATP top-ranked players conducted in 2002 might shed some further light on this elusive topic.
Pete Sampras, while not the fastest server, had the greatest number of rotations per increment of movement, of any server tested. While others were serving well over 130 miles per hour, Sampras was a good 10 miles per hour slower despite less speed, his serve, as measured by serve points, won was the highest on tour. His opponents often talked about how returning the Sampras serve was like returning a rock. Hence the feeling of heaviness on the racket of Nadal's opponents is likely a result of the frequency of rotation of his ball. This "feeling" is measurable and quantifiable and more than a feeling.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.