163.3 mph serve....

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by saram, Feb 13, 2008.

  1. saram

    saram Legend

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,371
    After reading the November/December issue of Tennis Magazine, I came across a rumor/legend that Bill Tilden served up a bomb at 163.3 mph. Maybe it happened, and maybe it didn't. My curiosity is to how in the world they could have clocked it at that speed with the technology that they had in 1931.

    I'm not even here to discuss today's technology in sticks versus old time. What I am curious about is how they came up with that figure/number with the technology they had back then in tracking speeds of tennis balls.

    Any thoughts into this or links to factual data concerning this amazing urban legend????
     
    #1
  2. Chauvalito

    Chauvalito Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2006
    Messages:
    2,582
    They looked at archival footage frame by frame I believe...

    of course they didn't measure that speed in 1931 :)
     
    #2
  3. saram

    saram Legend

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,371
    I guess if the new the speed of the film, then they could do that. Never thought about that. Thanks!

    Edit: "...if they knew...."

    I'm a dork! Sorry for the lousy grammar.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2008
    #3
  4. Chauvalito

    Chauvalito Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2006
    Messages:
    2,582
    no problem, I cant remember where I read this. some more information on this topic would be interesting.
     
    #4
  5. r2473

    r2473 Legend

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2006
    Messages:
    7,121
    That's nothing. Have you seen how fast people ran back then? Babe Ruth used to trot around the bases in about 2 seconds!!
     
    #5
  6. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2005
    Messages:
    7,924
    No, they did measure the speed at the time of the serve, did not use archival footage. I believe they used a stopwatch & the distance of the court to come up with the number. Maybe urban knows more.

    Ellsworth Vines was clocked at 128 in the 30s, that's probably what Tilden was really at.

    Radar guns first were introduced in the 30s & some pitchers were clocked back then. They had to throw a ball into a hole that had devices that measured the speed as it went through.
     
    #6
  7. Tchocky

    Tchocky Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Messages:
    3,816
    Location:
    The OC
    Absolute lie. Does anybody here really believe that to be true?
     
    #7
  8. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Messages:
    6,832
    Location:
    New York City
    Ridiculous. And Vines didn't serve in the 130s. I'm sorry. Becker was lucky to break into the 130s. There's no way Vines did it.

    These guys are benefiting from the distortion of ancient history.
     
    #8
  9. Leelord337

    Leelord337 Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Messages:
    3,911
    Location:
    univ houston courts
    I was watching the djokovic/tsonga match and dick enberg said "Djokovic hit a 196mph serve". I think he meant to say kilometers, anyway it was really funny and i think i might record it and post it on youtube.
     
    #9
  10. Gimmick

    Gimmick Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    May 16, 2007
    Messages:
    428
    I don't find 130's that hard to believe, but 168 seems unlikely.
     
    #10
  11. NLBwell

    NLBwell Legend

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2004
    Messages:
    7,189
    163 for Tilden is probably measurment error, since no one has approached that, but why would you think that Becker could hit a significantly harder serve than Vines? Any facts to back that up?
     
    #11
  12. circusmouse

    circusmouse Rookie

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2006
    Messages:
    367
    Yeah, measuring archival footage and using a stopwatch don't seem like exact sciences to me. I'm sure Tilden had a big serve, but some things will just have to remain mysteries.
     
    #12
  13. kimbahpnam

    kimbahpnam Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2007
    Messages:
    2,675
    was it in?
     
    #13
  14. VGP

    VGP Legend

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2005
    Messages:
    6,311
    Location:
    Location: Location
    It's in the Guiness Book of World Records.....

    What I would like to see is a measuring a modern serve using the method used for Tilden back then. Perhaps we could reverse-extrapolate Tilden's serve speed based on those measurements.
     
    #14
  15. Vision84

    Vision84 Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2007
    Messages:
    1,655
    Location:
    Cambridge, UK
    Using a stopwatch is incredibly inaccurate at such a short time frame. It probably takes longer to stop and start the timer than it does for the serve to bounce over the net.
     
    #15
  16. nocab

    nocab Rookie

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2005
    Messages:
    114
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    using a stopwatch wouldn't make much sense. You would get the average ball speed over the distance they measured. The ball is fastest right when it leaves the racquet and slows down significantly after it clears the net and even more when it hits the ground. If 163.3 was the average then the ball had to travel even faster then that at first, which is very unlikely.
    If they only measured the speed over a short distance (i.e. the racquet to the net) then you would have a greater chance of human error, like when did he actually hit start and stop on the watch.
     
    #16
  17. Northshoreplayer

    Northshoreplayer New User

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2008
    Messages:
    5
    Location:
    Des Plaines
    I've seen slo-mo footage of Tilden's serve motion: very elegant, quite efficient, but there's no way he hit over even 130 considering he barely gets his legs into it, and he barely gets into the court with his follow through.
    And after his 25 minute workout which included three laps around the court and some rope-jumping he probably had a cocktail under a shaded umbrella.
     
    #17
  18. VGP

    VGP Legend

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2005
    Messages:
    6,311
    Location:
    Location: Location
    Remember that there was a rule where you had to have one foot touching the ground at all times during the service motion....
     
    #18
  19. tacoben

    tacoben Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2008
    Messages:
    504
    Location:
    Foggy Town USA
    I believe that Roscoe Tanner use to serve in the upper 130's to 140 mph recorded with modern technology (speed guns).
     
    #19
  20. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,770
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    It's fairly easy to measure different frames of movie film and measure the distance traveled by the ball over a known interval of time, such as 24 frames per second or 18 frames per second (standard moving film rates indicate 1/24 second or 1/18 second between consecutive frames).

    Distance over time=speed (as in miles per hour)

    I can't vouch for the veracity of 163.3 mph, but the physics of the measuring is rather simple. You don't need radar or lasers.
     
    #20
  21. drakulie

    drakulie Talk Tennis Guru

    Joined:
    May 3, 2004
    Messages:
    24,466
    Location:
    FT. Lauderdale, Florida
    I couldn't agree more. The same "historians" claim that he, along with several others (Vines, Pancho, etc) **ROUTINELY** hit forehands over 100 mph>>>> a feat that modern players don not even come close to.

    No way these guys, incluiding Tanner were hitting serves over 130, or coming near that routinely.
     
    #21
  22. VGP

    VGP Legend

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2005
    Messages:
    6,311
    Location:
    Location: Location
    I remember seeing Tanner on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (a big tennis fan). They set him up on stage with a radar gun and he was hitting 115-125......
     
    #22
  23. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Messages:
    6,832
    Location:
    New York City
    Guys, Tilden was probably lucky to get over 100 mph. Federer has far more action on his serve and doesn't really even get into the 130s.

    Considering the lack of leg action and the foot on the ground rule, I'd bet my life that he never hit 130.

    I won't even dignify this 163.3 nonsense.
     
    #23
  24. brtennis

    brtennis Rookie

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2004
    Messages:
    228
    Did he use a PD+ in 1931? :)
     
    #24
  25. AndrewD

    AndrewD Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2004
    Messages:
    6,581
    163mph is called 'publicity', not reality. However, we most certainly can't discount players of Tilden's era being capable of generating speeds similar to the ones recorded in the 1970's. Colin Dibley held the world record for a serve timed at 148mph and he did that using a wooden racquet, one foot on the ground and a lot less talent than someone like Tilden or Vines.

    Also, remember there's an enormous difference between the speed a player, during the 'wood era' COULD hit their serve and the speed they WOULD hit their serve. So, what you see in archival footage is less an indication of their capabilities than of the limitations imposed by the equipment.
     
    #25
  26. Leelord337

    Leelord337 Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Messages:
    3,911
    Location:
    univ houston courts
    its also on wikipedia. just wiki bill tilden
     
    #26
  27. Gimmick

    Gimmick Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    May 16, 2007
    Messages:
    428
    If Serena can hit 90 with an abdominal tear and no lower body, then I have no problem with 130 for an able-bodied person who simply has to keep one foot on the ground.
     
    #27
  28. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,645
    I remember reading encyclopedia articles about Pancho Gonzales hitting a 113 m.p.h. serve.

    At this page he's listed as hitting a 112:

    http://www.halfvalue.com/wiki.jsp?topic=Pancho_Gonzales#_note-5

    .

    But there's also a description of his forehand being measured at 113 mph:

    That coincidence of numbers doesn't seem right to me.

    Also it's strange that his serve would be no faster than his forehand.

    A footnote for the same article:

    Strange.
     
    #28
  29. randomname

    randomname Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2005
    Messages:
    949
    and where did you get your degrees in physics and bio-mechanics?
     
    #29
  30. Pushmaster

    Pushmaster Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2004
    Messages:
    1,768
    Location:
    Pittsburgh, PA
    If Tilden could hit a 163mph serve with a wood stick (which I seriously doubt) he could probably have clocked one at 180 with a modern stick (which I seriously doubt as well).
     
    #30
  31. JMaj

    JMaj New User

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2006
    Messages:
    57
    #31
  32. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Messages:
    6,832
    Location:
    New York City
    Timed at 148 mph using what? A sundial? There's no way he hit 148 mph back then, with a foot on the ground and a wooden racquet. Look how much torque Roddick gets on his serve. It's huge, yet 148 is about as fast as he can hit it. Sampras never came close to 148, yet this Dibley guy did it?

    I'm calling BS on all of it. They didn't use speed guns back then and the numbers could easily be inflated.

    I'm sure they had great serves for their time and considering the rule on serve, but McEnroe had a great serve with a wood racquet and wasn't even close to the numbers these guys were claimed to have.
     
    #32
  33. Gimmick

    Gimmick Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    May 16, 2007
    Messages:
    428
    The first step is admitting you have a problem. The next is doing something useful about it.......feel free to enlighten us with something more substantial than cynicism.


    "In 1997, in a comparative test done by Tennis magazine, Mark Philippoussis, the six-foot-five, 217-pound Australian renowned for his powerful serve, averaged 124 mph when serving with his own composite racket. With a classic wooden racket, he averaged 122 mph."

    Call BS if you want, but even with his own Racquet the serves were similar, even in a "modern" test.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2008
    #33
  34. AndrewD

    AndrewD Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2004
    Messages:
    6,581
    If you can locate the 1974 Tennis magazine article where they outline exactly how the players were timed then you'll be able to find out. Then you can make an informed decision.
     
    #34
  35. meowmix

    meowmix Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2007
    Messages:
    3,852
    Location:
    Hanover, NH
    It's not impossible that the guy DID hit a serve 168 mph with a woodie. Is it probable? Not really. But is it possible? Definately! Just because Roddick can only reach about 150 with his massively powerful PDR+, insane torque, and 6' whatever height doesn't mean that somebody 76 years ago couldn't possibly have hit 168 with one foot on the ground. It's physically completely possible.

    Also, there is going to be no way to prove this. Unless someobody can get actual footage of the guy making this 168 mph serve, nobody can either confirm or disconfirm this piece of info. So, anybody feel like bringing up some hard evidence and showing us a vid?
     
    #35
  36. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Messages:
    6,832
    Location:
    New York City
    I'm making a decision based on the same information everyone else is using. Just because my decision is different doesn't mean it's any less informed.

    From what I've read they used some sort of clock to measure the speed. It'd be like timing a runner going over 100 mph with a stopwatch. It can't be that accurate.

    Again, is everyone living in fairy tale land? These guys had like zero knee bend. Becker had massive knee bend and racquet speed and his fastest serve was in the mid 130s. Last time I checked Tilden had a pretty open stance on serve, little to no knee bend, and had to keep a foot on the ground. Yet somehow he pulls off a 163.3 mph serve?

    Really guys... really.
     
    #36
  37. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Messages:
    6,832
    Location:
    New York City
    Roddick's core is far more powerful than Tilden's ever was. He's a pretty big dude. His racquet speed is insane on serve. Tilden's racquet head speed was almost totally generated by the arm, letting the racquet drop and virtually swing itself. There is nothing magical about it. It was a good smooth motion but not near as violent as Roddick's, or even McEnroe's for that matter. I don't see how, after looking at video of Tilden's serve you can believe he hit 163 mph.

    I do however retract the statement that he had an open stance. It is closed. It's a good motion but I'd bet a grand on the fact that he never breached 120, let alone 160.
     
    #37
  38. drakulie

    drakulie Talk Tennis Guru

    Joined:
    May 3, 2004
    Messages:
    24,466
    Location:
    FT. Lauderdale, Florida
    ^^^what I find even more laughable is comments made by historians that these guys were routinely hitting 100+ mph forehands.

    Just looking their strokes and speed they generate on the stroke, almost no follow-trhu compared to todays players who don't routinely hit 100+ mph fh's would make it an impossible feat.
     
    #38
  39. saram

    saram Legend

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,371
    Any thoughts into this or links to factual data concerning this amazing urban legend????

    This was the original question I asked. Didn't ask people to argue or banter about this or that. Considering that no one here on an educated board can find any data either, I'm assuming it's just a good urban legend and we'll have to live with that.

    It is probably possible to hit one that fast out of a million with the technology in the day, my question though, was as to whether there is any data/information backing it up.
     
    #39
  40. Nickognito

    Nickognito Rookie

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2007
    Messages:
    146
    Location:
    Florence, Italy
    Sampras hit a 120 mph serve with a wooden racket. It's possible and probable that Vines and others served with that speed. It's not probable that they did it very often, because wooden racket give less control, at the same level of power.

    Sampras said that groundtrokes were different with the wooden racket, but his serve speed was not so different. But he said that at the same speed he couldn't control the ball as well as with the new rackets.
     
    #40
  41. randomname

    randomname Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2005
    Messages:
    949
    I just think its funny that you somehow made the conclusion that an injured woman being able to serve 90 mph has anything to do with a man with a wooden racquet serving with one foot on the ground
     
    #41
  42. Gimmick

    Gimmick Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    May 16, 2007
    Messages:
    428
    I just think its funny that there's still nothing more useful than your own bemusment in your post.

    When Tennis magazine did the study with Mark he had a 60% accuracy with the wooden racquet and 50% with his own. The 5.0 they had perform the same test also had a higher accuracy with the wood racquet. The 3.0-4.0 players however had dramatic reductions in accuracy with a wood racquet. For test purposes, the three racquets they tried were all strung with Babolat VS gut at 70 Lbs (Mark's choice of tentsion and string at the time). I don't know how long that Dunlop Fort would have lasted with that much tension, but it made it through the tests intact.
     
    #42
  43. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Messages:
    6,832
    Location:
    New York City
    Dunlop Fort at 70 lbs? That is a lot. I can definitely understand accuracy with a wood racquet. I am surprised that the speed was equivalent however.
     
    #43
  44. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Messages:
    6,832
    Location:
    New York City
    You're right about this. Groundstrokes would be far more affected by wood racquets than the serve.

    I think when historians talk of 100 mph forehands they're using it in a symbolic sense, i.e. it was a fast forehand.
     
    #44
  45. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Messages:
    6,832
    Location:
    New York City
    I do agree I've placed too much emphasis on Vines and Tilden having used wood. What is far more important is the fact that those guys don't come anywhere close to the violence of Sampras' service action.

    The truth is we'll never know just how fast they served, but I'd love to see some old films of some of their matches to see how they played.
     
    #45
  46. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,770
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    I believe that Borg used to string his Donnay at something insane, like 80+ lbs.

    There's a true story about his coach, Lennert Bergelin, being awakened in the middle of the night by strings spontaneously popping in the racquets stored in a closet. He said it sounded like firecrackers going off.
     
    #46
  47. AndrewD

    AndrewD Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2004
    Messages:
    6,581
    How in the world would you know? You're basing your comments on what, a few minutes worth of footage and taking it entirely out of context?
     
    #47
  48. NLBwell

    NLBwell Legend

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2004
    Messages:
    7,189
    StormHolloway - You have no clue what your are talking about, and don't even know who Colin Dibley is or when he played, do you?

    168? Has to be a measurement error, since no one has done it since. Could guys playing with wood rackets reach into the 120's and 130's (and even possibly 140's)? Yes, documented with radar guns.

    Does a foot on the ground cause you to hit slower? Maybe slightly, but not much if you grew up serving that way. What it does do is make it much more difficult to get a hard serve into the court, since you lose height, angle, and the ability to rip upwards to get as much spin on the ball.
     
    #48
  49. Enlightened Coelacanth

    Enlightened Coelacanth Rookie

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2008
    Messages:
    397
    Yes. 163mph is unquestionably out of the reach of human attainment, especially given the wood racquet (though wood makes the least amount of difference when serving).
     
    #49
  50. orangettecoleman

    orangettecoleman Professional

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2007
    Messages:
    1,208
    Location:
    Mesa, AZ
    i wonder why someone with a good serve like querrey doesn't use the most powerful racquet and strings he can find for one match just to get in the record books for fastest serve. i imagine a lot of guys could top the 153 mark using a 29 inch racquet and gamma live wires or something. they would lose the match because serving would be all that racquet would be good for, but still i imagine it would be fun to be the top gun for a little while...
     
    #50

Share This Page