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It's official, Wimbledon season has begun and it is not all about "Murray mania". I decided to take a look into tennis and how advances in technology and data analytics have impacted the game. Data analytics has been around in sport for years and any coach, player or team who cannot master or keep up with its advances is destined for defeat - now more so than ever. Therefore, it is no coincidence that as data analytics advances, so does the sports industry.
There once was a time when coaches used to sit on the side, gather us much data and information as possible, and look for patterns and insight that they could then take back to the practice court. Nowadays, players have a whole team built around them from coaches, dieticians, physios, and (the ones I would like to focus on) statisticians. Whether these data-connoisseurs can now be classed as Data Scientists is for a separate debate.
The fact, however, remains the same, they have access to a vast amount of data collected from various sources and tools which can process and analyse large amounts of (even "big") data.
Take Babolat's new racket as an example, the Babolat Play Pure Drive which was used by Rafael Nadal earlier this year. This racket has sensors in it to record power, spin, angles and techniques throughout the game. The President of Babalat stated, “tennis is an individual sport, but Play is like having someone on the court with you.”
It is worth pointing out that rackets like these are not (yet!) turning the sport into some in-game technological warfare. Players are not allowed to receive coaching during matches so even if real-time analytics were taking place, this information would not reach the players until after the game. That being said, access to this type of data is a real weapon to be used during training and could be seen as a genuine game changer for the future of tennis.
IBM have been a long serving (sic) partner of Wimbledon and recently built IBM SlamTracker. This tool analyses data collected from 41 million data points each match. These data points come from the "Chump" (a handheld PDA used and updated by the umpire) and 48 tennis analysts on the court who manually record and feed the data into the IBM Cloud. IBM SlamTracker also analyses sentiment of people watching the match using language processing techniques on social media feeds. Combining this with some fantastic visualisation skills leads to representations such as this found on IBM's Big Data and Analytics Hub.
We have touched on how "big data" and "data science" are revolutionising the way that player's improve their game as well as how they now provide viewers with a wealth of information and in-game analysis at their fingertips. There are countless ways that the game is being enhanced and improved - predicting sports injuries, betting, identifying young talent in a "Moneyball" approach. It is interesting to see how wearable technology is entering sport as well.
Tennis has always been at the forefront of introducing technology - Hawk-Eye was first introduced in to tennis in 2006 and the technology has since been used in cricket, hurling and most recently football. Provided that the ITF (International Tennis Federation) keeps an eye on technology and its use within the game, I see no reason why these types of advances are anything but a good thing and long may they continue.