Photo of tennis ball showing spin. Credit: Zyteng-Photography/iStock.
Photo of tennis ball showing spin. Credit: Zyteng-Photography/iStock.

Cosmic Queries: Tennis Special Edition

Credit: Zyteng-Photography/iStock.

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About This Episode

Are you ready for a deep dive into hardcore tennis physics? This week, Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice welcome back sports physicist John Eric Goff to answer fan-submitted questions about tennis, from the silly to the serious. You’ll find out more than you ever wanted to know about fuzzy tennis balls – and be prepared for Chuck to get a bit playful with the subject. Jokes aside, you’ll learn the physics of how the fuzzy surface impacts ball spin, speed and bounce, effecting the coefficient of drag, and whether the airflow around the ball is more laminar or turbulent. Find out how fast a ball needs to spin to affect trajectory, and why any spin creates some magnus force. Discover how to return one of Rafael Nidal’s 120mph serves with a little topspin of your own – and learn why it’s not going 120mph when it finally reaches you. Explore how much torque a slice imparts to the tennis ball, and why Roger Federer can get his balls to spin at 4000 RPM. You’ll also learn the critical reason that tennis balls come in a vacuum-sealed can, why tennis rackets are the length they are, why some coaches teach their players to grunt when hitting the ball, what impact racket shock absorbers have on vibration, and just how much force it would take for a serve to blast through the receiving player’s racket. And that’s just scratching the surface of the science Chuck, Gary and Eric serve up in this special tennis edition of Cosmic Queries.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Queries: Tennis Special Edition.

In This Episode

  • Host

    Gary O'Reilly

    Gary O'Reilly
    Sports Analyst, Broadcaster, Professional Soccer Player
  • Host

    Chuck Nice

    Chuck Nice
    Comedian
  • Guest

    John Eric Goff

    John Eric Goff
    Physicist & Author of “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports”

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