Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Measuring the Preciseness of Service Speed ; with Fluctuating Speeds and a Pecking Order, Statistics Hard to Pinpoint

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Measuring the Preciseness of Service Speed ; with Fluctuating Speeds and a Pecking Order, Statistics Hard to Pinpoint

Article excerpt

With fluctuating speeds and a pecking order, statistics are hard to pinpoint.

Milos Raonic, one of the world's most powerful servers, finished off a victory in his first-round match on Wednesday at Wimbledon.

So how fast did Raonic serve?

There is no way to know. His match was on Court 7, not one of the six courts at Wimbledon that are equipped with radar equipment.

Service speed remains one of the game's recurrent talking points: a tour staple since the early 1990s that generates buzz in the stands and bragging rights in the players' lounge.

But it also remains one of the least reliable measures of tennis excellence: in part because great servers do not always make great players and in part because serve speeds tend to fluctuate considerably depending which system is used to do the recording.

Neither the men's nor women's tours recognize official world records because of the variations in speed guns.

But there is still an unofficial pecking order and in May, glasses and eyebrows were raised in the tennis microcosm when Samuel Groth, an Australian journeyman now ranked 262nd in the world, hit an ace at a challenger event in Busan, South Korea that was clocked at 163 miles per hour, or 263 kilometers per hour.

In statistical terms, it was a Beamonesque effort: 12 kilometers per hour faster than the previous unofficial mark of 251 kph established by Ivo Karlovic, the towering Croatian, at a Davis Cup match in March last year.

To put Groth's big number in perspective, the fastest serve recorded in any Grand Slam event so far this year was a 237- kilometer effort from Raonic at the French Open.

"I wasn't there, and I didn't see it," Karlovic said of Groth's serve. "So I can't really comment on the accuracy of the speed machine at that tournament. But I know that Sam can hit bombs."

Others are more openly skeptical. "I can't believe it," said Paul Annacone, the former tour player and big server who is now Roger Federer's co-coach. "I've seen Groth play. I haven't seen him play in a year, but I've seen him. It's got to be the radar gun. I don't see how that's possible, but maybe that's my old, cynical side coming out. …

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