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The Power of a Tennis Serve


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For the past 129 years, hundreds of thousands of people gather in August and September to watch one of the most celebrated and anticipated events in tennis: the US Open. Since 1978, the US Open—known more formally as the US National Championships—has been held in Flushing, NY, but over the years has seen nine different locations from Rhode Island to Pennsylvania.


Just as the location of the Championships has changed, the event itself has evolved over the years. The two week tournament began as a mens-only competition in the late 1800s before the first women’s event, singles, was added in 1887.

Since then, women like Billie Jean King, have been making great strides, and gaining more power, in the sport. In 1993, there were only 18 women who hit serves at 100 mph or faster at the US Open, and only one woman, Brenda Schultz, who recorded a serve faster than 110 mph.

Nearly 20 years later, the number of women achieving these speeds have grown. Last year, 78 women recorded serves faster than 100 mph at the US Open, with 37 who recorded serves at 110 mph or faster. Leading the pack for ladies’ singles serve speeds was tennis super star, Serena Williams. Her fastest serve speed clocked in at 125 mph.

Even though on the men’s side of the game, John Isner had the fastest serve speed of 144 mph in 2012, Serena, and other ladies are beginning to approach some of the men’s speeds. In 2012, 75 men had serves 125 mph or faster, while just 40 had 130 mph or faster.

As men and women continue to push the limits of athletic skill and power with faster and often more accurate serves, the game of tennis continues to evolve.

This is the third post in a series of three exploring the women’s game evolution at the US Open, using analytics from IBM. To learn more about how IBM is using analytics at the US Open, visit here. Read the first post here, and second post here.

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