Paying Homage To Those Who Impart ‘Whip’ In Their Chosen Sport

This piece is a wandering collection of thoughts about a sporting phenomenon close to my heart. It is not timely or relevant. It will not gratuitously pose a question to engage audiences or conclude with a call to action. In all likelihood it flies in the face of contemporary online journalism convention – it is just an indulgent, self-satisfying collection of reasons as to why the concept of ‘whipping’ in sport is good. 


What do Mark Waugh, V.V.S. Laxman, David Beckham, Rafael Nadal, Gary Ablett (Jnr), Kelly Slater, Glen Boss and Jan-Ove Waldner all have in common?

Simple: They are, or were, master exponents of imparting whip in their chosen sport. Each has achieved that rarefied air of being known as ‘good to watch’. It is clearly not a coincidence.

There are many reasons why whipping is good, and I’d like to meander through some if you’d care to indulge. But first, let’s talk about what whip is, because like most other things, the rise of professionalism has clouded understanding of the topic.

Whipping is the imparting of spin – the imparting of action – on any ball or apparatus so as to cause the ball (or apparatus) to curve or drift. But, as I’ll discuss, curving is only half the game. Whipping is primarily physical but realistically encompasses a cultural, if not spiritual, commitment to the task. The best exponents of whip deliver their product with a zeal usually reserved for religious pursuits – and much like pointing out a ‘bald man’ in a crowd, whip becomes the primary distinguishing feature of the matter at hand.

A brilliant exponent of 'whip', perhaps the best ever
A brilliant exponent of ‘whip’, perhaps the best ever

Whipping is good because it’s synonymous with expertise. You will not find whip anywhere near the coaching syllabi at any novice level in any sporting discipline. It is a sign of mastery, only able to be imparted once the fundamentals are understood. For that reason it is to be respected. Put simply, if you’re able to impart whip in any sport, then you ‘can play’. And really, isn’t that all anyone wants?

‘Whipping’ isn’t ‘dipping’. The term dipped enjoys an uneasy relationship with whipped. It unsettles me to hear commentators describe a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick (fierce as they are) as having been whipped over the wall. Ronaldo does not whip the ball. He strikes it with such biomechanical precision that he causes the ball to dip without spin.

‘Whipping’ is not ‘curving’: Whipping is better than curving, and the two terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Whipping is far more ubiquitous. Sure, curve can result from whipping, but whipping involves a human-triggered motion. Mark Waugh never ‘curved’ the ball to the boundary, and it would be a foolish, incompetent commentator who describes David Beckham ‘curving’ the ball over the wall. Yes, the ball may have curved – but that’s only half the story. It was whipped, and the way it was struck defines it as so.

When it comes to whip it’s important that there’s a discernible symmetry to the arc of the ball. Essentially, you should be able to graph it.

This graph is more of an elegant Federer backhand than a frightening Nadal forehand
This graph is more of an elegant Federer backhand than a frightening Nadal forehand


And in that sense there’s one area of whip I haven’t come to terms with. This may cause you to spit your cornflakes out, but I find Rafael Nadal’s whip unsettling. It’s just too…violent. Too professional. Purists may argue that he should be rightly anointed king of the whip because of the amount he gets on the ball. I just feel as though there is a graceful majesty to whipping.

I think whipping is more aligned to the mystery in Give ‘em the ‘ol razzle dazzle from the hit musical Chicago, a friendly deceit, than Nadal’s style. Rafa lends a sort of viciousness to his whipping. It’s like he’s taken it to the outer reaches of human ability. The sheer brutality of it, while I respect it, leaves me uneasy, and I don’t really know what my position is yet.

It’s cliché but conversely, a Roger Federer backhand is heaven for whip connoisseurs.

To add to this – it was Professor Kirshner who, so the story goes, once shrugged and said that in the end, a mathematical formula must have elegance to have truth and to his mind, String Theory still lacked elegance. Admittedly, Professor Kirshner was not discussing Rafa’s forehand but rather the true nature of dark energy in the universe, but the point remains: whether talking about String Theory or whip, elegance always trumps.

Kelly Slater: I’m told he imparts excellent whip
Kelly Slater: I’m told he imparts excellent whip

While only introductory, I hope I’ve enthused you about whip. You should enjoy it. I am comfortable in declaring that whip has changed my life. It would definitely be in my ‘happy place’ if such a thing existed outside Happy Gilmore. I don’t even know if I would enjoy sport were it not for its existence. At the very least, sport would be much less enjoyable without it. I owe it an immense level of gratitude: it has given me something to aim for in all sporting endeavours, and it never disappoints.

Is there anything so glorious in sport as perfectly executed whip?

By Sam Perry

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