© Ella Ling

Tennis balls

The journeyman who says he served a 163mph ace


Not even Chuck Norris, the action hero whom Novak Djokovic has called upon to help him cope with Madrid’s treacherous blue clay, could serve that quickly.

It had been widely supposed that Milos Raonic, the 155mph kid from Canada, would be the first player to take the service speed gun beyond 160mph, to surpass Ivo Karlovic’s world record of 156mph. But today Samuel Groth, an Australian player ranked 340 in the world, announced on Twitter that he had welted a serve at 163mph at a second-tier Challenger tournament in Korea and was waiting to hear from the ATP whether they would confirm he had broken the record.

While one of the Chuck Norris Facts on the internet is that he is the only person to have ever beaten a brick wall at tennis, there was no reason to doubt Groth’s account that he had served faster than any human being before him. However, that does not mean that the ATP will ratify the speed; it is unlikely to be as simple as that. To start with, how accurate is the speed gun used at the tournament?

One thing is for sure; Groth does have a powerful arm. You can see that from looking at him. Just the other day, the 6ft 4in Groth was leaving the courts at the Busan Open in Korea when a couple of spectators sidled up to him and asked: “Your grandfather, was he a Viking?”

Groth is perhaps best known in Australia for his marriage and divorce to Jarmila Groth, Australia’s second highest ranked female player after Sam Stosur (the world No 55 has now reverted to her maiden name and plays as Jarmila Gajdosova). Their break-up was partly played-out in public, on Twitter, with Jarmila telling her followers: “You love a person from your heart and give them everything you have and they turn around and all they wanted?!! It’s not love and not you!!! Some people are with you only for what you have and for what they can take from you for free!” If the ATP can confirm that Groth has set a new record, at least then he will be known for something other than Australian tennis’s big marital break-up.

The 163mph serve was an ace, by the way. But Groth lost the match.

The tournament director at Halle was dismayed and frustrated when Roger Federer withdrew at the last minute from last summer’s event: he had even organised a private jet and a maid service for the Swiss. This year, the tournament have gone even further with their efforts to ensure that Federer plays; one of the streets in the town has been named after him. Federer said he was “extremely humbled” that one of the streets leading to the stadium will now be known as Roger-Federer-Allee.