How technology and innovation can benefit tennis players
Dr. Lorena Martin, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Data Sciences and Operations at the University of Southern California where she teaches in both USC Marshall’s School of Business and the Division of Biokinesiology.
Her research interests focus on sports analytics, exercise, sports methodology, sports performance, sports science, exercise physiology and reducing health disparities.
Martin earned a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from the University of Miami. She also obtained a bachelor’s in psychology and has a master’s in mental health counseling from Nova Southeastern University. Awarded research funding by the National Institutes of Health—the National Cancer Institute; the National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute; and the National Institute on Minority Health & Health Disparities she completed postdoctoral fellowships in analytics, GIS spatial analysis, biostatistics, and epidemiology from the University of California - San Diego.
Martin’s research has appeared in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a contributing author of Sports Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation (2nd edition) & Improving Exercise Adherence. She later sole-authored Sports Performance Measurement and Analytics. She is a former collegiate tennis player and is USPTA, PTR, and ACE-certified.
Additionally, Martin was the former Director of Sports Performance Analytics for the Los Angeles Lakers and former Director of High Performance for an MLB team. In her spare time, Martin is a sports performance consultant to multiple professional athletes in the NBA, MLB, and on the ATP tour, integrating her physiological and statistical knowledge to optimize the athlete’s performance and reduce the risk of injury.
The sport of tennis has long been known as being stuck in a “data dinosaur epoch” in terms of incorporating analytics and innovative technologies, but with time, comes change and evolving ideas that lead to innovation. Finally, the sports analytics revolution has reached tennis.
We now have the ability to reap the benefits of innovation in technology for tennis performance. Many top players and coaches have started taking an in-depth look underlying the player’s tennis game. It has now gained enough interest at the most elite levels, such that it is more frequently being incorporated into a tennis player’s training alongside other components such as strength and conditioning, physiotherapy, nutrition and psychology.
For instance, we know that Novak Djokovic has shown interest in analytics, while Andy Murray ascribes to wearable technology. Specifically, the interest is in devices that can capture data using GPS, accelerometers, magnetometers and gyroscopes. The purpose is to track movement, distance, speed, and other key performance indicators that can translate into a player’s match performance over time.
Many think of tennis as a sport where you hit the ball and run to return the next ball. Although that is the foundation of the sport, there is much more that lies beneath the surface—no pun intended. For example, knowing where the next shot will be hit. If your opponent is pushed out wide, cross court, what is the probability that they will take the risk to go down the line? Discovering these patterns, and realizing how a shot, and the return of that shot, can predict an opponent’s next move is easily identified through analytics.
Equally important to the ability to maximize performance through the implementation of sports performance analytics is the ability to minimize the risk of injury. Many sports scientists say that they can prevent injuries—but what we can do, statistically speaking, is examine factors evidenced to contribute to injury and provide insights that allow coaches and players to make data-driven decisions to modify and optimize their training and recovery with these aforementioned goals in mind.
Identifying how much load an athlete can place on their body before it starts to break down is critical to staying healthy. In basketball, this is taken into consideration by monitoring minutes played. In baseball, for pitchers in particular, this is monitored by the number of pitches and innings. Load management is such an integral concept in baseball that Major League Baseball players are on a five-day rotation. Why? Because of the enormous load placed on the shoulder and elbow, throwing a ball over 90 mph. Although we keep tabs on the speed of serves and the placement in tennis, few have mentioned the number of serves hit in the time span of an entire tournament, or the “clay-court season,” or the entire year.
If sports analytics are incorporated correctly, they can even contribute to extending an athlete’s career. Currently, we are seeing that many professional tennis players are now playing until their late 30s and early 40s. If analytics were to play a more prominent role in their routines, we would become even more surprised by how athletes would exceed previously normalized limits
How to get started
We can begin by identifying Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as heart rate, sweat rate, speed, duration of practice, rate of perceived exertion, as well as other factors that contribute to performance or injury depending on the goal of the tennis player. Then, of course, more advanced measures would include heart rate reserve, EMG, reaction time, etc.
Next, you want to identify the technology that will help you capture the data from the KPIs identified previously. Note that the most important thing to do here is to ensure that the technology has been validated, quantifies what it is intended to measure, and is reliable, consistently measuring the metric similarly. If you are unsure whether the technology has been appropriately vetted, it would be wise to adhere to those already reviewed by a governing body. For instance, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has developed a process to approve and certify particular Player Analysis Technology (PAT). I suggest, for those interested, to visit this section of the ITF’s website.
There are wearables and technology that many coaches recommend that are also PAT approved. There is also a plethora of other technologies that are not PAT approved, but are extremely beneficial to tennis players. Besides wearable technologies, there are also many other innovative technological devices that can help optimize a tennis player’s match performance. For instance, there is a great deal of recovery equipment that has been praised by many professional athletes for their effectiveness. In addition, if you plan to track data for an extended period of time, it would be beneficial to obtain access to an athlete management system (AMS). This will help facilitate the storing of diverse data types such as nutrient intake data, resistance training programming data, injury recovery data, on-court tennis training duration data and match performance data, all in a single repository that will help monitor a player’s overall load.
For the more advanced tennis player seeking customized analytics, finding a knowledgeable sports scientist who has a background in statistics, machine-learning, sports, physiology and biomechanics would be the ideal scenario. This will allow for optimal interpretation of the data, contextualization where the style of the player’s game is taken into consideration, and surface, climate and goals are more granularly analyzed. It is the final touch and the preferred method for elite and professional players seeking to gain an edge.
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