Exit velocity is a baseball term which applies perfectly to the Monday of tennis at Indian Wells.
Exit velocity measures how hard a batter hit the baseball, which is connected to the quality of contact generated by the bat.
A ball hit squarely — in the middle of the bat and on the sweet spot — will often if not always exceed 100 miles per hour. A pop-up or a weak grounder might be only 65 or 70 miles per hour.
If a ball hit over 100 miles hour is hit with a specific launch angle — referring to whether the batter takes an uppercut swing or a flat swing — will usually be a home run. In other words, if a batter tries to lift the ball into the air and hits it squarely, that’s when a home run occurs.
Monday in Southern California, a ball which normally would have been a home run was not a home run. This relates to the day of tennis at Indian Wells.
Gavin Lux of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a ball with an exit velocity of 107 miles per hour at a 22-degree launch angle late in the game against the San Francisco Giants. Balls hit with that exit velocity and launch angle in the 2021 Major League Baseball season had been home runs a majority of the time: 38 of 62. The Dodgers had hit a ball with that exit velocity and launch angle four previous times during the season. All were home runs.
Not this time.
The same fierce winds which affected Indian Wells tennis on Monday were blowing into Dodger Stadium. Balls which would normally be home runs were knocked down and stayed in the field of play by 20 to 30 feet. Other balls pounded in the Dodgers-Giants game which would have been home runs stayed in the park. There were at least four such batted balls, maybe five or six. This greatly changed the game. What might have been a 4-4 game instead finished 1-0 for the Giants, who just scored the biggest win of their season.
People will say, reasonably, that the wind did not provide an accurate reflection of how well each team performed on offense. It didn’t represent a normal indication of how these teams play. Fair enough. It wasn’t a full measurement of how well two teams hit a baseball. Fans were certainly disappointed (except in San Francisco, where a huge victory was celebrated).
Yet, the game contained a lesson: If the wind is blowing fiercely, adjust to the conditions. If it’s hard to hit a home run, try to score — and win — in a different way. The Dodgers weren’t willing to adjust. They kept trying to hit balls through the wind. It didn’t work.
It’s a comparison one can make with Denis Shapovalov and the other players who didn’t adjust to the fierce wind in Indian Wells.
It’s true that 30-to-35-mph winds aren’t normal tennis conditions, and that they don’t provide a great big-picture overview of where a player stands in his or her development. To that extent, Shapovalov and fans were cheated on Monday. Conditions did not allow for a normal tennis experience.
However, professionals bring their lunch pail to work every day, no matter what the conditions are. Solve the problem. Get through the battle. Find a way through the mess and the difficulty.
Adjust to the conditions.
Shapo couldn’t do this. It’s not surprising he failed to do this — his strokes are not compact, which makes him vulnerable to severe winds — but it is nevertheless a lesson for him, much as it is a lesson for a baseball team when the wind is blowing in and home runs are nearly impossible to hit.
Exit velocity: Shapovalov exited Indian Wells at less than full force. I won’t assign any profound big-picture or long-term meaning to the result.
On this one day, though, adjusting to the conditions is what was needed. Finding a way through these situations — even if they occur only once every seven months on tour — is one small but real way in which professionals show how capable they are of winning in different ways.
The more ways, the better.