How technology has revolutionised tennis

Leaving the lights on at the Australian Open

By Darren Lunny

A game once played by kings, queens and the ancient Egyptians, tennis is steeped in both history and tradition.

While the core principles of the sport have remained broadly the same, the character of the game has changed. Millionaire professionals are now thriving brands in their own right, employing teams of experts who help them to optimise their performances in pursuit of the win. Similarly, coaches around the world earn their money by honing the potential of aspiring club players of all ages and abilities.

In short, the sport of kings has morphed into a multi-billion dollar industry. Needless to say, this burgeoning industry is an innovative one. From understanding performance data to making the most of technological innovation, players and coaches are constantly searching for the information and equipment that will give them a competitive advantage.

“Tennis embraces technology and innovation,” says Geoff Quinlan, manager of coach and talent development at Tennis Australia, which hosts the Australian Open.
 
“I’ve been speaking with a lot of companies about various devices – things you can put in the racquet or on handles. Everyone is out there trying to be ‘the one’ – the next big thing in tennis."

Quinlan is no stranger to the use of technology in coaching practise. A pioneer in his field, Quinlan oversaw the development of Tennis Australia’s ground-breaking Technique App, which allows players to instantly analyse every aspect of their strokes – and compare their backhand to Roger’s, Serena’s or Novak’s.

“As a human we can see vision down to about a quarter or a fifth of a second, but videos shoot at up to 60 frames per second,” says Quinlan.

“That gives us a massive advantage in being able to see what is going on with technique. For instance, during the backswing – where the racquet is moving very fast – the human eye makes assumptions. With this app the feedback is instantaneous – it’s a great teaching tool.

“Previously we’d go out with a video camera and the coach takes the footage.  Then you come home, download the files and start editing them. Now we can do all of that instantaneously – annotations, overlay stuff, make comparisons right there and then. And through social media, players can share that information immediately. ”

In Quinlan’s eyes this kind of technology is just the tip of the innovation iceberg in tennis.

“Soon the sort of information we get from [camera system] Hawkeye and around player physiognomy will become more commonplace. Athletes will only get better as a consequence of the development of things like smart courts.

“You’ll step onto a court and your whole match will be recorded – you’ll be able to get all of the data in terms of the fastest hit, how much spin, how many calories you burnt and specificity around movement patterns.

“In the future, who knows what type of information we’ll be getting in real time?”

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