When you think of the size of professional athletes, what do you think of? Giant men and women with big, bulging muscles? For the most part, you would be right. Track athletes, Swimmers Fighters, along with Basketball, Football (either kind), and Hockey players all are usually large, muscle-bound people.
However, there is one sport though where being skinny actually seems to be an advantage. That sport is tennis. While many of the top players are very tall, they all have relatively low Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) and height-to-weight ratios. Being skinny seems like it helps you be a better tennis player, but why is that? Here we will discuss how skinny top tennis players actually are and how they benefit from that.
Why are tennis players so skinny? Tennis players are skinny because muscles are not important in tennis. Being skinny allows tennis players to move side-to-side quicker on the court, faster reflexes and it also helps them to increase their endurance, which is critical in tennis.
How Skinny Are Tennis Players?
When you watch a tennis match at any level, but especially the top-ranked players in the world, you will notice how skinny they are. But, how skinny are they really, and what do they weigh?. Take a look, we listed the top 10 ranked players in the world’s height and weight on both the women’s and men’s sides.
Women’s Top 10
- Ashleigh Barty – 5’5” tall, 137 lbs (62kg)
- Naomi Osaka – 5’11” tall, 152 lbs (69kg)
- Karolina Pliskova – 6’1” tall, 154 lbs (70kg)
- Kiki Bertens – 6’0” tall, 152 lbs (69kg)
- Angelique Kerber – 5’8” tall, 150 lbs (68kg)
- Petra Kvitova – 6’0” tall, 154 lbs (70kg)
- Simona Halep – 5’6” tall, 132 lbs (60kg)
- Elina Svitolina – 5’9” tall, 132 lbs (60kg)
- Sloane Stephens – 5’7” tall, 134 lbs (61kg)
- Aryana Sabalenka – 6’0”, 176 lbs (80kg)
When you look at the heights and weights for all these women and calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI) you will find that they are all on the lower side of the normal weight range which means they are healthy but skinny.
You may notice that Serena Williams, the most famous and most muscular-looking women’s tennis player in the world is not on this list. This is because she currently sits at #11 in the world due to taking time off for pregnancy. Her height and weight though, 5’9” tall and 155lbs. This is still on the bottom half of the normal BMI.
Other very famous players are even skinnier than the woman on this list. Maria Sharapova is 6’2” tall and only 130 lbs. and Caroline Wozniacki is 5’10” tall and 129 lbs.
Men’s Top 10
- Novak Djokovic – 6’2” tall, 176 lbs (77kg)
- Rafael Nadal – 6’1” tall, 187 lbs (85kg)
- Roger Federer – 6’1” tall, 187 lbs (85kg)
- Dominic Thiem – 6’1” tall, 181 lbs (79kg)
- Alexander Zverev – 6’6” tall, 190 lbs (90kg)
- Stefanos Tsitsipas – 6’4” tall, 187 lbs (85kg)
- Kei Nishikori – 5’10” tall, 163 lbs (73kg)
- Kevin Anderson – 6’8” tall, 196 lbs (94kg)
- Karen Khachanov – 6’6” tall, 195 lbs (87kg)
- Fabio Fognini – 5’10” tall, 170 lbs (79kg)
When you look at the men’s side, you will see much of the same in terms of skinny top players. Their BMI’s are slightly higher than the women’s due to the difference in muscle density between the sexes but overall their BMI is low and their height to weight ratio is much lower than similarly sized athletes in other sports.
Take an NBA player for example like Kevin Durant who is considered and looks very skinny compared to other players. Durant is listed at 6’9” tall and 240 lbs. Compare that to Kevin Anderson above who is only an inch shorter but is almost 50 lbs lighter
The Benefits of Being a Skinny Tennis Player
When you see the height and weight information above, it becomes obvious that when so many of the world’s top players are that skinny, there is obviously some kind of advantage. In fact, there are many advantages tennis players have by being skinny.
Lateral Speed & Quickness:
The majority of movement on a tennis court is side-to-side, short bursts of movement that require explosiveness and quick reflexes.
It is fairly simple science that tells us, the more mass your body has, the more energy you have to expend to get it to move. The less mass you have to move, the easier it is for your body to move it in a quicker fashion. In other sports, they require longer runs.
This means that having more muscles in these sports is an advantage because it will lead to an increase in the force with which you move as you run longer distances.
Tennis can be a very long and physically grueling game. Whether you are playing best of 3 sets in a women’s match or the best of 5 in a men’s contest, they regularly last 2 hours or more.
This is a long time to be doing anything physically active, but when you add in the outdoor conditions you have to deal with, the sun, the heat, the wind, the rain, it has to be one of the most physically taxing sports.
Now, you might say that tennis players are skinny because the sport is so aerobically demanding but it goes both ways. The more fit you are and the less weight you carry, the more endurance you tend to have.
Bulk Hurts Fluidity
Tennis is all about the fluidity of movement. Being able to glide from side to side on the court and being able to smoothly transfer energy from your whole body through the ball are both abilities that top tennis players need to succeed.
Too much muscle will make your movements more herky-jerky and less fluid. This will hurt your tennis technique and make it more difficult to improve your game to a greater level.
Skinnier = More Power?
This seems like the opposite of what should be true. You would think that bigger muscles in the arms would equal stronger swings but it makes more sense when you understand exactly what tennis players do when they swing the racquet and hit the ball.
While we see the swing of the arm, the process and form of properly hitting a tennis ball are actually about the transfer of energy throughout your body.
To hit the ball with a lot of power, the speed actually comes from the player planting their feet, driving with their legs, and transferring that energy up their body. This generates “torque” when they rotate their hips and shoulders and swing their arms which leads to the forceful striking of the ball.
Leg Muscles More Important
When you do look at the bodies of tennis players closely, what you will see is that while their upper bodies are usually trim and skinny looking, their legs are generally pretty thick and powerful.
This is because their legs are where tennis players generate most of the speed, quickness, and power from even though it looks like the swinging of the racquet is what does it.
Tennis players aren’t doing much training for their arms at the gym however, training legs are almost a most for all tennis players.
Reduced Injury Risk
Tennis is not a contact sport and, of course, it is not as dangerous or as injury-ridden as violent sports like American football or hockey.
As mentioned in the reasons above though, tennis is a game that requires twisting and turning, explosive movement, changing directions, starts, and stops all while your body grows more and more tired over the course of a match. All this adds up to the fact that it can be very easy to get injured when playing in a tennis match.
With that much movement, using all parts of your body, carrying extra weight is extremely detrimental. It puts much more stress on your legs and your joints and makes it much more likely that those things will break down over time.
In tennis, injuries to players, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and ankles are all very common which is why being as skinny as possible is best, to help minimize these sorts of injuries.
Next time you watch a tennis match, check out the player’s bodies again. Don’t just notice how skinny they are, but check out how that is helping them in their sport.
Look at how fluid their movement is, how long they can hold their endurance for, how quick they are on the court, how hard they hit the ball and how they bend and flex and bang without getting injured.
When you really take a hard look at these things, you will gain an understanding as to why it is such an advantage to be skinny in the sport of tennis. These players may not be able to throw punches like an MMA Fighter or make a tackle like an NFL player but the way their bodies are built is the perfect way to excel at the sport of tennis!