Friday, November 09, 2012

So You Wanna Be A Millionaire

Andre Agassi's dad, Mike, wanted Andre to hit roughly a million balls per year. To do that, Mike set up a ball machine that fired balls at young Andre. Mike figured 2,000 balls per day would get Andre to roughly a million balls per year. I get over 2,700, but who's counting.

So how many hours per day must a player dedicate to various practice methods to hit 2,700 balls per day?

Two decent players rallying at modest speed, not missing many shots, can pretty easily each hit 17 balls per minute. I watched videos of me and Miikka rallying on YouTube and on both crosscourt forehands and backhands, that was our rate. We weren't killing the ball or ourselves. Just easy rallying. At that rate we'd have to rally for over two and a half hours for each of us to hit 2,700 shots.

My previous posts about hitting against a wall lead me to believe that a person rallying against a wall can hit at most about thirty balls per minute. For those exercises I was standing sort of close to the wall. At that rate a player would need to hit for about ninety minutes to hit 2,700 balls, but I think a more realistic number is 25 hits per minute. So to get to 2,700 hits against a wall, I think you should plan on hitting for about an hour and forty-five minutes. That's a lot of hitting. If you take breaks, tack those on to the hour and forty-five.

Since a very well struck ground stroke takes at least a second to travel from baseline to baseline, if you set up a ball machine to feed you balls, I'll assume that you want to see the result of your previous shot before hitting the next one. So a ball machine practice session can't really do better than one shot every two seconds (one second to watch your first and one second for the next ball to get to you from the machine). Maybe by moving the machine closer to the net, like Mike Agassi did, you could cut that down to a shot every 1.5 seconds. Let's stick with the more realistic 2 seconds per shot. That means a player hitting on a ball machine can hit about thirty balls per minute. So young Andre, let's say, hitting a ball every two seconds, would need to hit for about an hour and a half to reach 2,700 hits per day.

No wonder Mike Agassi chose the ball machine. That's pretty efficient, assuming you pay attention to where you're hitting the ball so you don't train bad habits and assuming you have somebody else pick up all those balls!! Since you don't have to pick up balls and reload the machine, maybe wall practice is the most efficient from a hits/minute standpoint.

What about match play? How many hits of the ball do you get if you play matches? The average set takes about thirty minutes and has roughly sixty points. The average singles point, being pretty generous, consists of about six hits. That's three per player.  So each player hits one hundred and eighty shots per set. Since a set takes one half hour, double that for three hundred and sixty hits per hour per player. So to get to our goal of 2,700 shots per day, our aspiring tennis millionaire would need to play for about seven and a half hours each day.

That's a bit much.

If your goal is to get really good at hitting balls, then set up the ball machine or find a wall and start hitting. It's probably the most efficient way to hit a lot of balls.

If your goal is to become a good tennis player, though, or a good tournament match player, then you'll need to play tennis and play tournaments in addition to pounding balls against that machine or against that wall. Hitting the ball well is just one part of being a good tennis player.