Does the fastest tennis serve depend on height?

Does the fastest tennis serve depend on height?

With the Aussie Open here again, Rhett Allain investigates...

It's the Australian Open tennis championship 2013!

Can Laura Robson and Heather Watson progress to the second week? Will Djokovic win again, or can Andy Murray become the victor in another Slam? Will Federer add to his already record-breaking collection of trophies?

All these questions will be answered in the next two weeks.  In the meantime, guest writer Rhett Allain investigates the effect that a tennis player's height has no the speed of their serve...

Have a look at this video of Bradley Kahn serving at 135 miles per hour.

Pretty impressive, right? But that's not even the fastest serve ever!

Rhett Allain saw this tweet from his friend Jobe:

Ivo Karlovic beat Andy Roddick's world record for fastest serve yesterday at 156 mph. But he is 6 ft. 10 in. to Roddick's 6 ft. 2 in.

Although Rhett doesn't know too much about tennis, this seemed interesting. Does height really help a tennis player serve faster? Fortunately, Wikipedia has data on the Fastest recorded tennis serves to help him investigate.

The only thing missing from Wikipedia is player height. Luckily, that wasn't too difficult to find since there's usually a list of athlete-type data like this somewhere on the internet. So, here is what Rhett found. Rhett also went through the current ATP Rankings to include some players that didn't have severing speed records. You know, just to see. Here's what Rhett found:

Rhett Allain

Notice that it seems even the non-record setting servers fit this linear-ish model. If you're really interested, here is a link to the data in a Google doc.

Clearly the model isn't totally linear. Otherwise someone that is 0 meters tall could still serve the ball at 68 km/hr.

Rhett reckons that there are probably two important factors influencing serve speed. First, there is player ability - skill, strength, experience level - whatever. Then there is height. So, there could be a very tall player that just doesn't have the ability. He (or she - Rhett didn't look at female players because there wasn't as much data on Wikipedia) might not be able to set a record. But, this is why Rhett included other great players that don't have records. Look at those orange data points in the graph. Those are all top players and they do not have record setting serving speeds. Maybe they have maxed out on speed for their particular size.

Overall,  Jobe is probably right. Height does have an effect on how fast tennis players can serve.

One more thing. What will the next record be? How much taller could you get if you are a tennis player? According to Rhett's linear model, a player model-fitting player would have to be 2.17 meters tall to get a faster serve speed. I, for one, await our fast serving tall tennis player overlords.

This article was contributed by Rhett Allain (@rjallain on Twitter) and originally appeared on Wired.

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