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The broken Prince Thunderlite

The amateur pro tennis serve

2014-07-27 03:30:00 (GMT)

East Grand Rapids, Michigan, United StatesI’ve discovered the natural breaking point for a Prince Thunderlite tennis racquet.

7,001 serves at 100+ mph.

Unusual punishment

The circa 1997 model reached an unceremonious end when the round frame broke into two pieces after a serve at the local tennis courts.

The durable black-and-green racquet — made of metallic-looking carbon — was finally destructible after years of cumulative abuse.

90-minute serving sessions. 200 balls a session. At least once a month. Every summer. For the last seven years.

The net result is ~7,000 serves.

The lightweight racquet blasted every ball across the court in an instant. We were relentless.

The best technique

“Playing” tennis without an opponent quickly became an obsession to perfect a big-time serve.

I was so close.

Hitting 100+ mph serves was my summertime passion. My running. My cycling. My whatever.

I experimented — between hand-ripping blisters — with serve motions that ranged from my self-taught hybrids to close replicas of the last three world No. 1s and the ATP tour’s then fastest and arguably best server: Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick.

Each serve motion produced a high rate of speed and streaky stretches of greatness. 

Unsatisfied, I altered each effective motion to find a more perfect motion. More consistency. More repeatable. Less dependent on the brute force of my right arm.

Discovery

Maybe my racquet was trying to tell me something as it broke into pieces.

It’s time for me to commit to a serve.

Okay.

I re-visited Federer’s classic motion as a foundation.

I used my backup racquet — a much heavier, old-school Prince Graphtech (circa 1990), which forced me to slow down my motion.

I watched some video. I read some.

I hit a slow-motion version to the kids.

I was closer.

And then during one last self-defeating experiment with Sampras’ motion, I discovered the missing piece in my quest for a fluid big-time serve: my most natural backswing — or the path of least resistance to generating arm speed, wrist snap and striking the ball.

I inserted the missing piece into my motion, and I had a revelation.

The motion I was seeking is my motion.

The moving parts were familiar to me. But I never combined those component parts into one motion.

I understand now why.

I never had a model of it.

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Chris' content career started at the San Francisco Chronicle after college. After working as a metro reporter in Southern California's Inland Empire, he...... more

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