Data set and match: the role of data in tennis

Andy Murray has just conquered the grass courts of Wimbledon for the second time in his career, emulating the last British player to win consecutive Wimbledon titles – Fred Perry in 1936. Of course, in the interim 80 years the game has evolved dramatically. However, the biggest recent change has arguably been around data.

These days, players step out onto the court after analysing opponents’ data from previous matches. At the elite level, this extra insight can be the difference between failure and success.

The Fans’ Perspective

This year at Wimbledon, fans enjoyed the sport like never before, by experiencing key player statistics and real-time analysis.

IBM Watson’s ability to manage and act on the data it “reads” has been one of the greater accomplishments of the tournament. The Artificial Intelligence cognitive system managed a social strategy by applying its natural language to determine the sentiment from a global audience. Watson was also able to manipulate complex data to answer questions like “What is Murray’s break conversion rate?”

Fans were also able to track the number of aces, double-faults, and unforced errors at each tournament through real-time analytics tools such as Hawk-Eye.

The Players’ Perspective

Gone are the times where practice and determination are the sole elements to success.

It’s a given that athletes are always looking for an edge on the competition. But without rigorous analytical insight, that edge is much harder to find. Less than a year ago, SAP introduced tennis analytics software to the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association). Players and coaches can now access real-time data during live match play.

It allows for coaches to analyse player performance and devise match-winning tactics. Stacey Allaster, CEO and Chairman of the WTA elaborated: “Analysing data is fundamental to player and coach development, and this state-of-the-art technology, which more and more of our performers are now using, will take our sport to a new and exciting level and lead the way in sports technology.”

Players and coaches are also making use of shot charts, to gain a better insight into on-court behaviour. The technology maps the directions a player hits a ball, and tracks the ball trajectory. Through aggregating the data, it’s possible to identify patterns of play and predict players’ tactics.

Match point

The role of data analysis within sports is becoming more and more significant for sports stars and fans alike. Big data and analytics are being utilised to give the most tailored content.

As exemplified above, the demand for data and the tools to analyse it will only gain momentum. The success that has come, from the likes of IBM Watson and SAP analytics software, is derived from being able to consume vast amounts of data – and present the findings in easily digestible statistics.

To carry on in this way, data providers will need to be able to deliver data in greater volumes, and at faster speeds to keep consumers happy. Technology may never be able to replace of talent, hard work, and dedication. However, it certainly offers solid science to augment winning strategies.



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