Here's an excerpt from a piece I wrote for Sports Illustrated's website as I prepared to return serve from Reilly Opelka, the reigning Wimbledon junior champion, who happens to stand almost seven feet tall.
He begins his motion but then he pauses, and asks, “Do you want me to tell you where I’m going with it?”
Bravado subverts good sense. “No,” I say. “I want to see the real thing.” And I do—I want to experience what it’s like to try to return one of the fastest serves in the game—I just hope he doesn’t serve right at me. I consulted several friends who are teaching pros beforehand for advice. “Wear a cup,” said Bobby Dowlen, a longtime Houston teaching pro, “and sit in the stands.”
But I’m not wearing a cup, nor did I strap on a catcher’s mask as I briefly considered. I bend my knees much more than I usually do and I crouch much lower than normal. I know from his trajectory that the ball will bounce up high on this clay court and hopefully go over my head. I think I can get the racket in front of my face in time, although I worry it could press the strings back into my nose. I also consider falling to the ground to save myself.
Read all of "Maximum Velocity: Facing the ATP's fastest serves head-on" on Sports Illustrated online.
(And for reference to the photo above, this is me with Donald Young in April 2015. He stands 6 feet.)