Tennis and Technology: A Snapshot of How They Are Working Together

Tennis and Technology: A Snapshot of How They Are Working Together image SAP Sony Open Screen with Analytics 200x300Tennis and Technology: A Snapshot of How They Are Working TogetherSports have always been associated with collecting and discussing statistical information, and players are judged and ranked from those stats.

Coaches have always worked to plan plays by factoring in those statistics to provide a snapshot of the competition, and to plan a winning game strategy.

It’s about revealing the opponent’s weakness and making that your strength (think about baseball and how a coach will send a left-handed player with a good on-base percentage and speed, to hit against a left-handed pitcher, to result in a better chance of getting the player on base and scoring a run). The technology used to calculate that information is a combination of statistical equations and cross-tabulations.

Fast forward to 2013, and the statistical data associated with planning a winning sports strategy is now at the next level. It’s the advancement and acknowledgement of new technologies that are enabling today’s athletes and coaches to, not only plan a winning strategy, but to make a player better in every aspect – from their techniques through to their game mentality.

In tennis, technology has been an influencing factor in some key plays such as determining if that ball is in or out. This type of technology has created a definitive way of calling plays and leading to more accurate outcomes – something all sports players and fans can appreciate (I mean, what did we do before instant replay?).

Now, technology has gone beyond making more accurate calls and is transforming the game into one of specific player analysis, strategic planning, and reviewing historical and predictive data to decrease the winning margins and increase the chances of an underdog catching up to a superstar.

There are four main areas of data analysis that coaches and players are using to determine patterns of their players and opponents, and transform the game by changing their strategies as they approach game planning:

  • Serve Direction – through the technology, first and second serve is tracked and plotted to show the performance of a player on each serve attempt. Post-match, this data is transformed into a visual representation of where shots are placed, and through cross tabulations, predictive analysis can show how a player will perform based on their personal patterns.
  • Return Contact Point – the contact point shows the strike point and where a player returns the serve, which reveals their patterns and individual ability to return different types of serves. This is important for a coach to review and provide feedback on how to improve in specific situations.
  • Shot Placement – it’s paramount to know and evaluate how each ball is hit and where it is placed. This part of the analysis shows if the hit was a slice or topspin, total number of unforced errors, and the groundstroke speed.
  • Movement (court coverage) - the court coverage analysis produces a heatmap showing the players’ movement and how much of the court was covered through the match. Understanding where a player is standing (their comfort zone) and needs to stand, in comparison to where their opponent will be hitting can result in a much better return percentage.

Technology goes hand-in-hand with tennis and transforming the sport to take it to the next level. As the reporting structure for the data advances, and coaches and players start implementing the changes guided by the report implications, the sport will continue it’s competitive appeal and keep players strategically improving their games.

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