Raising the game


26 October 2015

Tennis is pairing up with tablets to take the women’s game to the next level. During the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) tour, which reaches its climax in Singapore this week (23 October – 1 November), live match performance data is being pushed from on-court technologies such as the Hawk-Eye System to the cloud, and from there to the coaches’ tablets. All this takes place in real time, so coaches are able to pull out the data and analytics during coaching breaks to fine-tune their players’ performance and game strategy.

The data cruncher behind the scenes is AP Tennis Analytics running on the SAP HANA platform in the cloud. SAP HANA – because its in-memory capabilities deliver the real-time performance that is required to track games down to the ball level, in live match scenarios. Cloud – because that is the most logical infrastructure option when the analytics is being pushed out to tablets and mobile devices in 55 matches across 33 countries.

WTA players like Andrea Hlaváčková, winner of three grand slam titles and silver medallist at the London Olympics, find the technology useful. “As a player, it is important to know what is happening at a particular point in time in a match,” she said during a panel discussion at the SAP Media Summit in Singapore. This means being able to drill into different scenarios, and not just look at the serve directions.

For example, when the opponent is serving on break point and the data indicates that she never serves out wide, the coach can provide these insights to the player during the court break, so she knows she does not have to cover that part of the court.

Other information available through the app include fault analysis, for example, when the player misses the ball, hits it to the net, or hits the ball wide; and player ball positioning. It can show, for every time the player returns a serve, where she is hitting the balls from, and where she is hitting them to.

The coach is also able to set predefined scenarios, for example, successful scenarios such as unreturned serves, and have the stats and analysis ready when he/she brings the tablet down to the court.

Hlaváčková also made an interesting point about the perceived impartiality of the analytics. Where the coach and player have slightly different perspectives about how a game went, it is nice to have the numbers as an arbiter, she said. “It does not mean that numbers mean everything in tennis but to be able to trust an analysis is very good for us.”

The way tennis analytics is being used in the WTA tour is possible because of a change in ruling in 2008 to allow on-court coaching.

In 2013, SAP signed a partnership agreement with WTA to develop the technology platform that would take this a step further with the use of real-time analytics. “We worked with the player community, stood on practice courts and spoke with the coaches,” said Jenni Lewis, technology lead for Global Sponsorships, SAP. “We got around adoption issues by looking at what the coaches and tennis community needed. We worked closely with WTA, asked the coaches what they wanted and built it to their specifications. We had to introduce change at the pace that the sports community wanted.”

The platform was introduced in October 2014, but it was only in August 2015, at the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University, that it went live and coaches were able to bring the tablet with them to talk to their players on court during the coaching break.