Roddick's 152-mph Serve

How does a  6' 2", 190 lb. 22 year-old hit a 152-mph serve?  It is obvious looking at Roddick that he does not pack extra muscle on his frame, so it is unlikely due to strength.

A frame-by-frame analysis of his serve shows that he can serve the ball at over 150-mph because of excellent flexibility, sequence and separation.

We have found that tennis players at our clinic in Tiburon can increase their service speed by 1-mph for each degree that they increase the maximum external rotation of their serving arm.  While Roddick appears to have good (but not exceptional) maximal external rotation of his arm in relation to his trunk (90°), he increases his effective external rotation to 130° by arching his back.  In order to do this, he needs exceptional flexibility in his ribs and spine.  With his flexibility alone, Roddick can get his serve to 130 mph.

Where does the extra 22 mph come from?

In addition to his good flexibility, Roddick has excellent sequence.  To understand sequence, think of a tennis player as a rocket, putting the racquet head in orbit around his body in order to smash the tennis ball.  Like any rocket, a tennis player is built in stages.  The biggest stage is the one on the ground, and the stages get smaller as you go up.  Stage one is the legs, stage two the hips, stage three the trunk, stage four the arm and stage five the hand.  

If a launch is to be successful, each stage must fire in sequence.  If stages fire out of order, or some of them fire simultaneously, or they fire all together, then the launch will be unsuccessful.  Unfortunately, there are many tennis players who do not have successful launch patterns, but Roddick is not one of them--at least on his serve.  As you can see on the photos below, Roddick has his knees bent, with his hips and shoulders rotated away from the ball 90° at the beginning of his service sequence. 

At impact, he has extended his legs, rotated his hips 90°, and rotated his shoulders 120°.  His leg extension, hip rotation and shoulder rotation were all done in sequence, with each segment moved separately from the one above it.  This sequence and separation is rare in tennis (players tend to move segments together, overlapping or out of sequence).

Finally, Roddick fires the last two stages in perfect order, with the maximum possible separation.  In the photo on the left below, Roddick has extended his arm completely, but has not fired the forearm muscles to flex  and pronate his wrist. This happens at the very last moment as he extends his racquet through the last 90° of its arc prior to impact in the photo on the right.  A successful sequence equals a successful launch.

Another example that demonstrates Roddick's flexibility is his internal hip rotation, as shown in the photo below.  Ninety degrees of internal hip rotation is usually only found in elite breastrokers.

One area where Roddick could benefit from additional flexibility is his on-court movement.  In the photo below, you can see that he has only 105° in his stride angle, which is the maximum separation of the front and trailing leg.  

We have found, when working with runners and tennis players, that for every degree you increase your stride angle, you increase your stride length (the amount of ground you cover with each stride) by two percent.  This means that just a 25-degree increase in stride angle (which is easily achieved with Microfiber Reduction) would enable Roddick to cover 50% more ground with each stride on court.  The photo below shows Michael Chang, a tennis player famous for his ability to cover the court.