Big Data – A new steroid in Tennis?

19th Feb `15, 12:29 PM in Sports

Gone are the days when the coaches used to sit and collect information during a live match and…

Raghav Radhakrishnan

Gone are the days when the coaches used to sit and collect information during a live match and later looked for patterns and insights in the data that might help them make better decisions for future matches. Today, coaches have the two basic ingredients for sports analysis: readily available data collected from various sources and tools which can process and analyse large amounts of data.

IBM’s SlamTracker is one such tool which enhances the players chance to win by pointing out three key actions to be taken. This analysis is done based on a whooping 41 Million data points collected from each match with data from 8128 matches, a simple calculation gives us an enormous figure of 333,248,000,000 data points in terms of serve percentage, points, serve speed, scores, winner, duration, player types, Surface, etc.

IBM collects data in multiple ways, starting from the umpires who update a handheld PDA called the “Chump”, which is connected to the IBM network, to the 48 tennis analysts who are placed around the court at various positions to manually record and feed the data into the IBM Cloud. Apart from analysing this data, the tool also analyses the sentiment of the people in the stadium and around the globe, using language processing techniques on Facebook and Twitter feeds. The tool then creates a social leader board.

The data is also shared with the media real-time, using touch screens showing all the data/statistics of the match along with various views, to help the journalists in coming up with articles. This does not end here. It goes even further by predicting the traffic for the respective website like the “Australian open” based on awareness on social media, blogs, Twitter, etc and then the system scales up the capacity of the website if it finds out that the traffic will increase.

Similar to the IBM SlamTracker, SAP in collaboration with Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) developed a tool which provides the players and coaches with post match analysis of the variations in technique and performance. It also enabled accesses to key real time data like serve direction and shot placement. Besides the coaching tool it also developed a mobile app to give fans around the world access to exclusive statistics, virtual replay, player profile, etc.

To help in collecting data for analysis, Babolat has come up with a smart tennis racket which records the power of the shots, the angle at which the ball is hit, the level of spin, technique, etc. This tennis racket has sensors installed to record the data throughout the game. The data is later transmitted to a computer or a smart phone for analysis. The smart racket looks like any other racket except for a button at the base of the bat which is used to switch on the sensors. Rafael Nadal is using one such smart racket at the 2015 Australian open.

Now you may be wondering why these players are not accessing the data on their smart phones during the game play! An International Tennis Federation (ITF) ban on coaching during matches bans players from consulting the data obtained from these tools on court.

These tools point out the areas for improvement and at the same time provide the much needed stats. Die hard fans of tennis love it when they are served with statistics; this adds to the excitement quotient and keeps them at the edge of their seat completely engaged and entertained.