Analytics is being used more and more in professional sports to enhance athletes’ performance. But it is not used equally in every sport. The major four American sports, football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, have been using analytics to help their players maximize performance for years. But tennis has been lagging behind.
Instead of just having basics statistics, like how many first serves a player gets in, analytics have improved to the level of being able to map out almost every part of the game. Now, coaches and players can look at maps of where a player serves at certain times during a match or how strong a player’s backhand is from the baseline. Knowing details like this about an opponent can help a player prepare more thoroughly for a match.
If you can predict where your opponent might serve the ball or how fast a shot might be returned, you can be better prepared for every serve and return on your end. These new kinds of analytics are helpful for studying the opposition but they can be used to improve one’s own game as well. A player might not be aware that he has a tendency to place the ball in certain places off certain returns and may not know that his returns are easily predictable for opponents. Analyzing one’s own game can greatly help a player shake things up and devise new strategies.
Changing The Game
There are things that we can learn from data that just may not be apparent otherwise. For example, tennis pro, Timea Babos, didn’t realize that she was averaging more double faults than aces. This means that it wasn’t paying off for her to use a strong second serve. She was better off getting the ball in because she wasn’t winning many points on aces anyway. With the data on her serves, she was able to start changing her serving strategy.
The new analytics can even map the somewhat intangible qualities of a tennis player like performance under pressure. We can now study how a player performs during break points and other key moments during a match. This can help with developing player profiles. This is again, very important in knowing yourself as a player and knowing your opponent as well.
Coaching With Analytics
Using data in real time can be a good way to monitor a player’s performance during a game and let her know, while she’s on the court, what she has to do to win. For example, each player has a threshold for how many first serves they need to get in, in order to win a typical match. So a coach can let a player know if she is approaching that threshold and she can focus more on getting her first serves in or compensating in another way. Perhaps there is a way she can make up for having a bad serving game. The point is that knowing what the data shows can help a player turn the match in the right direction. Without the data, a player is on her own to figure out how to get back into a match she is losing hold of.
We’ve only begun to see how analytics can change the game of tennis. But it is already turning it more into a game in which the player with the better knowledge and stronger mental toughness has the advantage.