PitcherI wonder why tennis serves are not more similar to baseball pitchers'. I have tried to revamp my serve and am picking the left leg up high and following through with the right, the way all the right hand pitchers do, and it increased my speed and accuracy. Is there a flaw in this approach or analysis? I remember from squash the fastest serves I ever saw came from baseball pitchers.

Bill Humbert replies:

I remember Pat Cash reflecting that he felt he would have had a better serve landing on his left foot. Other great servers like Becker and Laver landed on the dominant (right) foot also. I switched from this style to the modern style while still in juniors — I found it easier to control, and easier to reposition myself at the baseline. But it would seem to suit a serve-volleyer to land on the dominant. Speaking of tennis, here is a little essay I wrote: Looking in The Mirror.

Players often go through long periods with their confidence low (I am in one now, both in my tennis and my investing). I believe that I am a good tennis player, capable of a certain standard of play, while my body is able ( which at the moment is not! ). I believe that with planning, practice, hard work I can get myself out of this rut, even though this is one of my worst. However that belief is not there when it comes to my trading and investing. Last year I blew up, losing too large a chunk of what I'd accumulated ( and spent ) over the years, and I've not traded since. I've gone back to work after having semi-retired, literally starting over. Not only that, I look in the mirror and ask whether those ten years of success and wealth accumulation were due to in large part luck - I'm starting to believe they were, and with that loss of belief there is no way I can apply the same principles I'm applying to the tennis court to get my mojo back. If you see a failure in the mirror, you will fail time after time. Here are some of the simple but expensive lessons I've learnt since watching Federer beat Nadal last year at Wimbledon.

1. Know your strengths and nurture them. We are all built with a particular strength, it's there to be nurtured. The right mentor might enlighten us, or sometimes even friendly opponents. Most improvement in a player's game comes from recognizing this strength and finding the opportunity to apply it over and over. Hide and protect your weaknesses, apply your strengths. You'll win more than you lose. Do you know yours?

2. Imitation leads to elimination. Much time is wasted by players trying to be what they are not, and giving away what they are best at in the process. Create your own style - that way you'll know its not been seen before.

3. Accept your shortcomings. Every player has holes in their game. A big step is made in accepting this. A player can then make better judgments on which balls to attack. This nurtures a more patient approach as the player realises he cannot hit every ball for a winner, cannot win every point.

4. Keep it simple. You do not have to be able to do know everything or do everything well to be successful. Success and winning is as much about getting the basic stuff right over and over again.

5. Know your next move. Rule 1 in grasscourt tennis: volley to the open court. With this rule in mind, you are applying an edge over and over without having to think about it. Your opponent may start anticipating, but he will be at a disadvantage more often than not. Having a set of moves from basic court positions simplifies your game. The task is then to execute. A good plan is very hard to beat even when they know what your are doing.

6. Don't play if you are injured. There nothing to gain. Injury means less practice, hesitancy during play, losses, and a spiral of falling confidence. Much like a depleted trading account which isn't letting you play as you would.

7. Do what it takes to restore your confidence. Any trick will do. Sports and trading are confidence games, and you are a useless player without it.

8. Know when it's time to hang up the racquets.

Steve Leslie writes:

I don’t follow tennis much any more but I have been researching some of the greatest players. As I suspected, on the men’s side Federer and Sampras are both 6′1″ according to Wikipedia. Becker is 6′4″. The women Lindsey Davenport and Venus Williams both go over 6′ and Sharapova is 6′2″. So compound their height and the high tech racquets that can withstand immense tightening of the strings and this in all likelihood are concomitant reasons why the serves are so fast today.

Basic physics dictates that to get greater velocity on the ball, the racquet head speed must be high. How you get there is up to you. Roscoe Tanner had a very compact swing as I recall. He was a striker. Becker would get there through a very long arc on his serve. He was more of a sweeper.

I do think that there is a corollary to the elbow problems that pitchers face and that is tennis elbow. Most likely due to the snap that the tennis player tries to get through the ball to obtain a little more velocity and the stress they put on the joint itself.

I know in golf that high clubhead speed is attained through shaft length, flexibility of shaft and acceleration through the strike zone. There is also a trampoline effect that is realized through the composite material used on the face and the design of the actual clubhead itself. In his day, Greg Norman was probably the greatest driver of the ball, which is a combination of accuracy and distance. He is considered a sweeper. Hank Kuehne and Daly are more strikers.

I still will never understand how or why Bryant played with a broken leg. Hacksaw Reynolds also allegedly played with a broken leg. A word of caution here. Bryant also had half his team quit at Texas A&M during his boot camp and according to the show on ESPN one almost died from heat exhaustion. Kerry Wood may have been permanently ruined because of abuse and pitching hurt and before he was sufficiently healed. And my all time hero, Dave Dravecky pitched after receiving treatment for bone cancer and broke his arm forcing amputation of his arm. These are two stark examples. I could also mention Mike Ditka, Joe Namath, Dick Butkus Dan Marino who walk like 80 year old men. There is a big difference in playing with pain and playing when really physically damaged.





Speak your mind

7 Comments so far

  1. steve leslie on June 26, 2008 10:24 am

    I think the dynamics of pitching in baseball is different than that of tennis. First a pitcher stands on a mound that is 10 inches above home plate. The mound was lowered from 15 inches after the 1968 season when the likes of Bob Gibson, Denny McClain, Koufax and others were mowing down the competition. So in effect they are throwing at a downward angle to home plate. Visualize a right angle and you get the idea.

    Pitchers derive their velocity in large part from their legs and rears. Look at Roger Clemens and you will see a big man with a big lower body. He has a body that is build for power pitching and durability . Bartolo Colon is another classic power pitcher. They work very hard on their lower body through weight training and running. Pitchers use the rubber as a springboard to propel their body forward and slingshot their arm through. In the old days Tom Seaver was an excellent example of a classic pitcher. He would get quite low and use his lower body to great advantage. To get their speed to the high numbers they also must incorporate rhythm and timing into their motion.

    Today’s pitchers are for the most part big men. They routinely go 6′2″ and it is quite common to have a number of 6′5″ hurlers on the staff. Mike Hampton at 5′9″ is the great exception. Your closers are guys like Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Eric Gagne, Rob Nen, Lee Smith Al Hrabosky just nasty individuals with wicked speed. They bring it in the mid to upper 90’s and their ball is lively. These guys are bad men.

    Randy Johnson had a big advantage when in his prime primarily due to his 6′10″ frame and long arms. However he paid a price as a result through back and shoulder problems. John Candeleria of the Pittsburg Pirates was an upright pitcher who had arm and leg problems due to the stress he put on his body.

    Your craftsmen are guys like Greg Maddux whose fastball is in the mid 80’s but has a great variety of pitches different looks and profound accuracy. Thus his ball is very lively and he hits the outside edges of the strike zone (paints the black). Pedro Martinez was a bit of a freak who had good speed low 90’s but a wealth of pitches and a variety of angles that he delivered them.

    Pitching is an unnatural motion and very destructive to the elbow and shoulder so the ligaments and tendons need to be very healthy and flexible. So the pitchers work on keeping their upper bodies arms and shoulders limber, stretching and maintenance is the key. After a pitching stint The pitcher will ice down his joints to keep the blood out of the area to enhance the healing process that follows.

    Pitchers are discounted as exceptional athletes and I think this is due to the misconception that they are specialists and are discouraged to learn hitting. Plus starters work every 4 or 5 days and relievers pitch one and two innings only. However there have been pitchers who are also good hitters, like Maddux, CC Sabathia and the most famous one of all Babe Ruth. Tim Wakefield started out as an outfielder and then learned to throw a knuckleball. Rick Ankiel lost his confidence on the mound and became an outfielder.

    Pitchers do well in other sportsas well. You mention tennis and squash but Golf has its share of pitchers. Rick Rhoden dominated the celebrity golf tour and Clemens and others are scratch golfers. Other althletes who do well in golf are Lendl, Mario Lemeiux, Elway, Johnny Bench, John Brodie, Connors, Dick Anderson Billie Joe Tolliver.

    Finally, I have included a series on Tennis by Tim Gallway The Inner Game of Tennis so after you work on the outer you the physical you then you might focus on the inner you. I hope that this has been helpful.


  2. Jordan Neuman on June 26, 2008 1:06 pm

    As a pitcher I often “fall off” the mound after I deliver a pitch. Is it acceptable for a tennis player to be in such an awkward position after the serve? Maybe some velocity has to be sacrificed to stay in the volley? Obvious parallel to trading there.

  3. George Parkanyi on June 26, 2008 11:06 pm


    Other than taking an idea from one discipline to another, I don't see the trading parallel either — unless you want to find a more effective way of destroying your screen when you went long the day before and your position has just opened limit-down.


  4. Mark Bates on June 27, 2008 2:54 pm

    Bear Bryant, Tiger Woods and my Dad would probably disagree with #6. As a player, Bryant played a full game against Tennessee with a broken leg. Tiger's recent adventure was great drama and my Dad played some of his best golf suffering from severe migrane headaches. As for Vic's post, I don't think pitchers get nearly the credit they deserve for their athleticism.mb

  5. ari dubov on June 29, 2008 11:04 am

    when you review the fundamentals of each form you realize they are very different on many levels

  6. david higgs on June 30, 2008 7:43 pm

    That must of been a sight, and surely spooked your opponent with the your high leg kick. Pitchers don't have the leverage of rackets, they must use their hips and be balanced. Take some pitching lessons and notice the differences that the two sports have with respect to muscle memory. similar but different. I'd think old age has a play here in messing with your serve. best.

  7. Anonymous on February 23, 2010 5:06 pm



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