The Effect of Altitude on Tennis
Playing tennis at higher altitudes is different than at sea level because the lower air pressure allows the ball to bounce higher. The lower density of the air has a significant effect on the speed of the ball. At higher altitudes, you don't need as much power, but you do need more control. If you are used to playing at a lower altitude, you may have a little trouble adapting to the different bounce at first.
Because the air is less dense at higher altitudes, there is less resistance to slow the ball. "The distance a ball travels is inversely related the air density," according to research engineer A. Terry Bahill. That means the ball will travel farther when you play at higher altitudes compared to lower altitudes. The higher and faster bounce of the ball changes the pace of the game, giving players less time to react.
The higher the altitude the faster the ball will travel, according to professional tennis coach Ron Waite. Manufacturers make a different ball for playing at higher altitudes. Although it is pressurized to the same degree, its core is not as dense, which results in a lower bounce. In addition, the size of the ball is 6 percent larger than regular balls. This slows the ball as it travels through the air so that its speed closer to what it would be at lower altitudes.
You may run out of breath more quickly while you're playing at higher altitudes. Because of the thinner air, you get less oxygen per breath. This can result in symptoms like headaches, loss of appetite and sleeplessness. Your body gradually adapts to the change by producing more red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to your muscles. Training at high altitude increases your physical endurance, which can result in better performance at lower altitudes. You'll be able to play longer matches and hit harder and faster.
It's often cooler at high altitudes, especially if you play early in the morning. If the temperature is not more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you can start with regular balls until it gets warmer and the air inside the balls expands, making them bounce higher. Switching to a less-powerful racquet and stringing it more tightly will also allow you to better control the ball and prevent it from flying.
- Denver Post; Tennis at Altitude Is a Different Game; Paul Suter
- Department of Physics University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Q & A: High Altitude Tennis
- Altitude.org; Altitude Training; Alistair Simpson
- International Journal of Sports Science and Engineering; Effects of Altitude and Atmospheric Conditions on the Flight of a Baseball; Terry Bahill et al.
- Turbo Tennis; Surface "Tension"; Ron Waite
- International Tennis Federation: Playing at Altitude
Lexa W. Lee is a New Orleans-based writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has contributed to "Central Nervous System News" and the "Journal of Naturopathic Medicine," as well as several online publications. Lee holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Reed College, a naturopathic medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and served as a postdoctoral researcher in immunology.