Technology has taken tennis to a new level
Among the ATP’s Stats Leaderboards’ metrics used to compare players is one called Under Pressure Leaders.
It is universally accepted — even by those who aren’t statistically minded — that the players who go on to achieve great success are those who perform best under pressure. So it is no surprise that Roger Federer leads the Under Pressure Leaders chart.
But when such intuitive knowledge can be backed up by dispassionate data, it opens up an all-new world. This is what Infosys, the Indian IT major, is attempting to do by being the technology service partners for the ATP and having access to historical game data being collected since 1991.
This can be better illustrated by going back to Federer. There are four components which make up the Under Pressure number — % break points converted, break points saved, tie-breaks won and deciding sets won.
Much like he has done all-season, at the World Tour Finals in London Federer saved nine of 11 break points in his three-set victory over Alexander Zverev.
The first set tie-breaker he won in the same match was his 20th in the tournament’s history, a record. After he beat Marin Cilic, he had won an impressive 13 decisive-set matches and lost just two. So what explains his semifinal loss to David Goffin? The latter saved nine of 11 break points and is 22-5 in deciding sets won; a near-identical percentage to Federer.
Another of the technological innovations is the ‘Second Screen’ capability, built by Infosys using its artificial intelligence platform Infosys Nia, and launched during the Finals.
It offers fans, players and coaches alike, real-time data about serve direction, return positions, variations in ball speed, spin etc. These numbers in turn can indicate subtle shifts in strategies by the players.
Let’s look at Federer again. Against Zverev, the Second Screen told us that he repeatedly served wide to the German’s forehand on the deuce court rather than the backhand. This may have simply been because Zverev’s backhand is known to be the better stroke. The ploy worked well for Federer as his opponent made just nine forehand winners to 23 errors from the same side.
As seen above, such insights require a degree of human intervention. Going forward, the aim is to completely automate the process and even predict player behaviour.
“We are turning data into insight and then the insight into foresight,” says Navin Rammohan, Associate Vice-President, Marketing, Infosys. “Like where will a player serve next and how best can his opponent counter that?”
Consider Rafael Nadal. Historically, he has served down the T on the deuce court nearly 60% of the times and was routinely picked off. However, in a highly successful 2017, the numbers read — almost 45% each down the T and wide. This unpredictability has proved a winning tactic for Nadal but in future this can warn his opponent from committing to a stroke like before.
It doesn’t stop here. The ATP-Virtual Reality technology developed by Infosys will enable a fan to be part of the stadium atmosphere and when combined with the Second Screen data give an immersive experience.
“Technology could see fans buying a VR capsule of their favourite match and use this technology to watch the game from their living rooms,” says Rammohan.