Elite tennis player sensitivity to changes in string tension and the effect on resulting ball dynamics

University of Sheffield
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Sports Engineering, 2008, 11 (1), pp. 31 - 36
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Eighteen elite male tennis players were tested to determine their ability to identify string tension differences between rackets strung from 210 N (47 lb) to 285 N (64 lb). Each player impacted four tennis balls projected from a ball machine before changing rackets and repeating the test. Eleven participants (61%) could not correctly detect a 75 N (17 lb) difference between rackets. Only two participants (11%) could correctly detect a 25 N (6 lb) difference. To establish whether varying string tensions affected ball rebound dynamics, the ball's rebound speed and landing position were analysed. The mean rebound ball speed was 117 km h-1, with only the trials from the 210 N racket producing significantly lower (P < 0.05) rebound speeds than the 235 N and 260 N rackets. This is contrary to previous laboratory-based tests where higher rebound speeds are typically associated with low-string tensions. The anomaly may be attributable to lower swing speeds from participants as they were not familiar with such a low string tension. Ball placement did not appear related to string tension, with the exception of more long errors for the 235 N racket and fewer long errors for the 285 N racket. It was concluded that elite male tennis players display limited ability to detect changes in string tension, impact the ball approximately 6% faster than advanced recreational tennis players during a typical rallying stroke, and that ball placement is predominantly unrelated to string tension for elite performers.
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