USTA College Combine:

Fitness Testing with Dr. Kovacs

Arthur Kapetanakis  |  June 19, 2019

Data-driven fitness testing is synonymous with the NFL combine. Thanks to sports science expert Dr. Mark Kovacs, that level of evaluation has made its way into the college tennis recruiting process.


Now in its third year, the USTA All-American College Combine presented by adidas features extensive fitness testing to measure the athletics of college-bound players. In addition to general athletic abilities, such as speed, power and agility, the Orlando combine also measures tennis-specific skills, like movement and change of direction on the court, first-step speed and rotational power. 


“It really provides a nice image of what an athlete looks like,” said Kovacs, “and helps them and their coaches to understand their strengths and what they need to improve on.”


Monday’s fitness testing at the USTA National Campus included six stations, all explained by Kovacs and shown in the below video: (1) the 20-yard dash; (2) the vertical jump; (3) the horizontal jump; (4) the 30-second first-step drill; (5) the medicine ball throw (forehand and backhand); and (6) the spider drill.



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The combine data drills down beyond on-court talent and results to provide a more complete picture of potential recruits to interested college coaches. 


As Kovacs explained, some players may be physically well developed but behind on strokes, technique or tactics, leading to deceptively poor match results. This could highlight an opportunity for a coach to recruit a student-athlete with a high ceiling and room to quickly improve with the right guidance. On the other hand, some players may have a strong win-loss record but lag behind physically. In this situation, the player and coach can develop a plan to work on those weaknesses for even better results on the court. 


“The results from the fitness testing definitely help showcase my athletic ability to the coaches,” said rising senior Lauren Waddles, who called the horizontal jump and the spider drill her favorites. “Getting to do the fitness testing inside the Player Development facility was a really cool experience. It’s pretty cool to get to train at the same facility that men professional players hit at every day.”


Senior Carly Earnhardt, of Mount Juliet, Tenn., was the top-performing female at the fitness testing. Her effort was highlighted by a 3.02-second 20-yard dash.


Rising senior Carsten Balao, of Windermere, Fla., took top honors for the boys, thanks in large part to a vertical jump of 3 feet, 3 ¾ inches. 


Kovacs, who set up and supervised the fitness testing, was an all-American and NCAA doubles champion at Auburn in his playing days, which also included a stint on the ATP Tour. He later completed graduate work at Auburn before completing his Ph.D. in exercise physiology at Alabama. 


Prior to his current role as a sports science and athlete training consultant, Kovacs worked full-time for the USTA for six years, overseeing coaching education and sports science. He also previously served as the director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. 


Having worked with more than two dozen ATP and WTA Top-100 players, he has seen first-hand how the world’s top players use drills like those at the combine to measure and monitor their progress.


“Every single one of them does something like this,” he said. “They do some more advanced stuff, as well, but they’re all testing their speed, their agility, their power, their first-step ability, and then trying to figure out how they can make improvements in all of those areas.


“The last decade has been amazing with the advancements in how athletes train. You can see it on court with the top players, and you can see how great of an athlete the best players are. That’s due to the training that they do. They’re a lot more diligent in their testing, a lot better in how they train, because they have a lot more quality, data-driven information.”


For the college hopefuls in attendance at the 2019 combine, they now have that same baseline of information at their disposal. How they use it will help determine their success at the next level.


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