In the heart of the Ker Lann campus in Bruz (35), in a wing of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, lies a laboratory like no other. Here, not the slightest white coat on the horizon, the occupants are rather fashionable sneakers and tracksuits. With the echo of the ball blows that resonates, an atmosphere of Roland-Garros almost floats. Here we are at the Center for Movement, Sport and Health (M2S), where researchers are working to revolutionize the practice of tennis.
Improve the gesture of service
Pierre-Yves and Gilles Arnaud Bailly are preparing for a very special training session on Tuesday, June 7, at half-time, in the gym specially equipped for research work. Accompanied by their father and their coach, the two Belgian aspirants traveled about 700 kilometers to reach the laboratory located a few kilometers south of Rennes. The goal is to improve your service. A significant marginal gain in a sport or the smallest detail can make the difference at the highest level.
On site, Caroline Martin, a sports science researcher and biomechanics specialist, prepares the team. The exercise requires the installation of about twenty infrared cameras, distributed along the tennis court that has been laid out on the floor of the gym. These will detect the many electronic markers placed on the player’s body and racket, which will allow him to model his service movement in 3D on the computer.
In training, there are things that we see easily and others that are much more subtle, that we cannot detect without these very advanced methods.
Pierre-Yves Bailly, 18, the eldest of the Belgian brothers, embarks on the exercise for the first time. The 983rd player in the ATP rankings moved to the United States, to Austin, to complete his studies and participate in the American college tennis circuit, considered one of the most demanding in the world. Before embarking on the path of full-time professional tournaments, there is a need to perfect their service. In particular, improving the speed of your first ball.
No time to waste
For Pierre-Yves, the motivation has been further strengthened in recent days. In Belgium, his younger brother Gilles Arnaud has just made headlines in the sports press after reaching the Roland-Garros final as a junior. At the age of 16, the Liege lost to the French giants Gabriel Debru, but his performance reminded his brother that there is no time to lose. “To fully enter the circuit, he still has to improve his service,” said Laurent Bailly, the father. “In training, there are things that you can easily see and others that are much more subtle that you can’t detect without these very advanced methods.”
A detailed assessment of areas for improvement
Once the electronic markers are attached to the Belgian player’s body, the session can begin. Where it is placed to serve, platforms are placed under its feet to measure its thrust force on the ground. “We collect as much data as possible to run our calculations,” says Pierre Touzard, a research engineer. Thanks to the data from the cameras, a virtual skeleton appears on the computer and comes to life in real time according to the player’s movements. Speed of rotation of the hips, height of the point of impact on the ball, thrust force … The analysis of all these elements allows to deliver a detailed report to the player on the areas of possible improvement.
150 players have already tried this specialized service
In recent years, more than 150 players have passed through the expert hands of the Rennes laboratory. Each time, the requests revolve around the same goals: to improve the speed of the ball in the service, the percentage of success or even to avoid recurring injuries. The services are billed directly by the University of Rennes 2, which in particular allows you to pay the operating costs. Among the most important names from the men’s and women’s circuit who have benefited from this specialized service: Daniil Medvedev, number 2 in the Russian world, Félix Auger-Aliassime, the Canadian currently in the top 10 in the world, or Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian 4th in the world.
The idea is to be able to optimize certain actions thanks to science
The database created as a result of working with these athletes has made it possible to refine the work of the research group and prepare increasingly efficient reports. Funded by the state, the project called Best-Tennis was launched to improve the performance of French players on the horizon of the Paris Olympics 2024. “In France 12 projects are supported for this purpose,” says Pierre Touzard . “We are tennis players, but we have teammates who deal with boxing, athletics or even swimming. The idea is to be able to optimize certain actions thanks to science.
Service is a key weapon
But by the way, why work specifically on the gesture of tennis service? “Simply because it’s a key weapon in the discipline,” says Caroline Martin, the project’s leader. “A player who serves well advances, either by winning the point directly with an ace or a winning serve, or by disrupting the opponent’s return to get a short ball that allows him to finish the exchange in a few strokes.”
As an example, I would take the service of Federer or Djokovic, who serve with great force and precision.
Contrary to popular belief, the best service is not necessarily the fastest, says the researcher. “When we think of the great waiters, there are the Americans Isner and Opelka, who are also very big, but they are not necessarily the ones who have the most right gesture from a technical point of view. As an example, I prefer to take the service of Federer or Djokovic, who are smaller staff, but who serve both very hard and with great precision.
Back to the session where the first tests seem rather conclusive for the young Belgian hope. Compared to his first visit to the M2S lab more than a year ago, Pierre-Yves Bailly’s service has improved. “There is a certain progression in several aspects,” says Caroline Martin to the player and his staff. “From what we see in the reports, we may have gone faster by catching the ball a little later.”
It will be necessary to find the right balance between power and regularity in the match
The researcher does not waste time. At the service line level, a marker is installed that allows the player to adjust the throw of the ball a little later. After several attempts, the gain in power in the service is undeniable. “Now we have to find the right balance between power and consistency in the game,” said his coach. A few weeks after the session, the M2S lab team will give you a very accurate roadmap that will allow you to continue to improve your service gesture.