Fancy your chances returning Sam Groth’s serve?
If you were at the opposite end of the court to him, you’d probably struggle, given the strapping 26-year-old can belt down his first delivery at speeds of more than 260km/h. He even holds the record for the world’s fastest serve, clocked at 263km/h at a 2012 ATP Challenger event in Busan, Korea.
But now, thanks to Kia, you might have better luck returning such a thunderbolt in the digital sphere.
Kia, the major sponsor of the Australian Open, has teamed up with Groth in a first-of-its-kind promotional activity; the interactive competition sees Groth featuring in a television commercial and hitting a serve, which viewers can return with their phones by downloading an app.
Just one of the perks for Groth has been scoring a Kia Optima to drive around as part of the deal.
“I’m excited to be associated with such a big brand and a major sponsor of the Australian Open,” Groth said.
“Being Australian, having the biggest serve and coming into the Australian summer, it was a very good fit for Kia in terms of what they’re looking for.
“There’s been a little bit (previously in terms of sponsorship). I’ve had the fastest serve for a few years now, but now my ranking too is moving in right direction, so I hope more opportunities can come up like this. I’ve had clothing and racquet contracts before but this is biggest deal yet."
Indeed, such a deal comes on the back of Groth’s rise inside the world’s top 200; he currently sits at No.172, his highest-ever ranking in an eight-year pro career.
Several factors have been behind this rise. It’s a fitter and more dedicated Groth who takes to the court these days, with more experience behind him and a healthier body.
After taking an eight-month hiatus from tennis to pursue other interests in 2011 – including a stint playing in a suburban-Melbourne Australian Rules football league team – Groth admits to somewhat “going through the motions” when he returned to tennis, although he did manage to improve his ranking almost 600 places during the 2012 season.
It was only when he linked up with coach Ben Mathias – in a shared arrangement with compatriots including John Millman, John-Patrick Smith and Matt Reid – that he fully rediscovered his passion and drive to compete.
“We went on the road and I got along really well with him, we chatted and discussed how I needed to apply myself day in and day out, and get fit – it was about my professionalism, about doing all the little things,” Groth revealed.
“I’ve now dropped 10 kilograms and my skin folds are down to the best they’ve ever been. Plus 2013 was my fullest season after struggling with injuries – I played nearly 30 tournaments.
“(The improvement has been) a whole process. It started with diet; I’m a big guy already so it’s about being strict with that. I also increased my workload both on and off the court. I do a lot more distance running and a lot less lifting in the gym, more focusing on bodyweight exercises.
“I decided to skip the (Australian Open) Play-off and focus on a training block; even in that time I’ve lost 4kgs and dropped my skin folds by 20 points.”
Such dramatic improvements in conditioning have resulted in some major gains on court.
He clinched the Australian Pro Tour title in Mildura in February, and since June qualified for all three ATP events he entered at London’s Queen’s Club, Washington DC and St Petersburg. He capped the year with runs to the final of the Champaign Challenger and semis of the Toyota Challenger to win seven of his last nine matches.
Given his form and motivation, the Australian summer – during which he’ll contest Brisbane and Australian Open qualifying – and the 2014 season couldn’t come soon enough.
“I haven’t performed as well as I would have liked in Australian Open qualifying in the past … I was lucky enough to get a wildcard in 2009; there’s nothing better than playing in front of your home fans,” he said.
“I’ll sit down with my coach on Boxing Day and we’ll come up with goals for the season. I want to be playing ATP events and the Slams.”