Nick Kyrgios: 'It hasn't sunk in'
Nineteen-year-old Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios upsets world number one Rafael Nadal in four sets to reach the quarter finals at Wimbledon.PT0M0S 620 349
There’s little doubt that Nick Kyrgios’s spectacular win over tennis great Rafael Nadal was the result of years of practice and perseverance and a good dose of raw talent.
But a less obvious factor in Kyrgios’s success is how technology has changed professional tennis to advantage players like himself – those who are tall and long limbed.
At 193 centimetres, Kyrgios is one of the taller male players in the game, standing several centimetres above the greats of previous generations.
Nick Kyrgios serves to Rafael Nadal during his spectacular upset win. Photo: AFP
Tim Olds, a professor of health science at the University of South Australia, said the average height of elite male tennis players has increased by about 10 centimetres since the 1960s. The trend could also be seen in female players, he said.
Rod Laver, a four-time Wimbledon winner in the 1960s was just 173 centimetres tall compared with John McEnroe, a three-time Wimbledon champion in the 1980s, who was 180 centimetres. Novak Djokovic, who won the tournament in 2011, stands 188 centimetres.
Professor Olds said today's elite players were taller than their predecessors because serving had become a more important part of the game, which advantaged those with height and long limbs.
Rod Laver at Wimbledon in 1960. Photo: Reuters
“The speed at which the ball leaves the racquet depends on the acceleration of your limbs, so if you’ve got longer limbs you can accelerate them faster,” said Professor Olds.
“You’ll notice during serves, the [player’s] arm goes right back so everything is stretched to the maximum so it releases like a spring at the end,” he said.
David Epstein, an American investigative journalist and sports writer, said advances in racquet technology had driven the importance of the serve.
John McEnroe goes down to Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon in 1980.
When manufacturers started making tennis racquets with carbon fibre they became considerably lighter, and as a result easier to move faster and use to hit faster serves, said Epstein, a journalist with ProPublica, and the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Sports Gene.
“There’s an artificial selection process where because of the changes in technology it’s those athletes [advantaged by the new technology] that are more likely to succeed,” said Epstein, who is in Brisbane to speak at the Cricket Australia High Performance Conference this week.
Professor Olds said changes to court surfaces had also placed a greater focus on serving, which in turn benefited those who were good servers.
“The playing surface is much faster, especially with Rebound Ace courts, which means you can get much more bang for your buck with the serve," he said.
But the trade-off for taller tennis players with faster, more powerful serves was a higher injury rate, said Professor Olds.