It is not long since tennis was proudly promoting its status as a one-on-one, gladiatorial sport which forced players to think for themselves during matches.
But goalposts shift quickly in this business. In the summer of 2022, the men’s tour allowed coaches to offer mid-match advice from the side of the court. Now – starting this week – it is providing live Hawk-Eye data for those coaches to work with.
We are not yet at the level of Formula One, where pit crews analyse telemetry signals as a race unfolds. But the expanding role of a player’s support team is clearly pointing tennis in that direction. As the sport becomes more quantified, coaches who understand how to benefit from data will become increasingly sought-after.
This latest move from the ATP Tour is an attempt to push tennis – once considered a technological laggard among sports – into the information age.
Coaches at the side of the court will be able to plot the location of shots on their tablets in real time. The most obvious application will lie in logging your opponent’s serve directions, and thus guiding your client on the best return position to adopt.
Such apparently minor details can make the difference in a tight contest, as the recent US Open final between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev demonstrated. Medvedev admitted afterwards that he had been too stubborn in sticking with his deep return position, thus allowing Djokovic to serve-and-volley with impunity.
This live coaching information is part of a wider push from the ATP to supply players with more hi-tech support. Having set up data-gathering equipment at each of its 67 events this season, it is now launching a platform called Tennis IQ, which claims to provide better scouting options as well as markers for analysing your own game.
The initiative lands at a time when some players employ expensive analytics firms – both to script game plans and to advise on technique – while others rely on old-fashioned intuition.
The intention is to level the playing field somewhat, even if there is still room for improvement. Telegraph Sport reported in January on the limited access players have to ball-tracking data. It remains the case that a player can only request historical Hawk-Eye data for matches that he himself has played in, but at least the £150-per-match processing fee has now been removed.
Still, Tennis IQ does characterise players’ performances and attributes via a number of indexes. You can scout your opponents by looking up numbers that quantify the quality of their forehands and backhands, or check how good they are at turning defence into attack.
The ATP says that this is the first step towards a more complete analytical package, open to all its members. The next stage, planned for next season, is to add video footage to the Tennis IQ platform. “We’re trying to raise the quality bar of what players and their teams can see and use,” said David Lampitt, who heads the ATP’s Tennis Data Innovations unit.