Tennis And Data: What Is Actually Available For The Public? From Raw Numbers To Hawk-Eye Metrics - UBITENNIS
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Tennis And Data: What Is Actually Available For The Public? From Raw Numbers To Hawk-Eye Metrics

Here is the second episode of our ongoing series on the advent of advanced analytics in the game. Let’s draw a few lines – what are the types of data, and who are they available to? Only those who are willing to spend a lot of money (like Federer) will get the entire benefit.

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A "data dump” of the bounces and racket strikes between Roger Federer and Andy Murray in the final of the 2012 Olympic Games - image via nationalgeographic.com
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The first official statistics related to individual matches have been recorded since 1991. To give you an idea, if you visit the ATP site and try to retrieve the head-to-head tally between Edberg and Becker, you will find the details of their matches only from that year onwards. Therefore, the first thing we can say without any doubt is that players, coaches and journalists could only do one thing before 1991: try to guess what had happened.

 

Therefore, systematic data collection on tennis began in the early 1990s… and unfortunately has never changed since then, except for some charts generously provided during the Grand Slam tournaments and the Masters 1000 events. In the latest episode of our series of articles, we will focus on the ownership of that information and who is involved in the data’s collection. Today, we focus on how to describe these evanescent data nuggets.

Tennis is an optimal sport for data analysis. It features elementary units (any single point) and there is a hierarchical framework with a binary outcome (games and sets). Although a large amount of data is available, only a small part is shared with the public: aggregates of elementary units (points, games and sets won), relevant points won (break points saved and converted) and aggregate performance about the serve, the only shot tracked. Going back to the ATP website, only serve stats and not much else is to be found.

So, what are the data on which tennis players, coaches, journalists and fans would like to see? Let’s try to summarise the different types:

FIRST CATEGORY: RAW DATA

The summary data about points are the overall data, which tell us how many points have been won by a player, for example, or how many break points have been played. The perspective of this analysis are the points, the elementary unit in the hierarchy of the tennis point system. Therefore, the point is generally the basic unit of available statistics, to which only one information related to the shots played is associated, e.g. the serve. In practice, the point, despite being the elementary unit of the score, is a black box that can have a varied composition but the only known attribute is “point played on the first serve” or “point played on the second of serve”. End of the story. All hope will be lost while trying to give statistical representations of a match, at least with reference to the official data freely available and published by the ATP.

That the serve is the most important shot in tennis (perhaps along with the return) is well known – on average, 60-70 percent of all points fall into the under-five-shots rally category. Relying only on this information is quite limiting when you are trying to make an analytical framework based on solid experimental foundations of what happens in a match or try to draw general trends. The most interesting results we can get with these data are the correlation between the performance of won and lost matches with reference to serve and important points played. It is not surprisingly that in the Stats section of the ATP site – the ATP Leaderboards – only data relating to the serving, returning and under-pressure performances are to be found. We have already talked about the robustness of these indicators here at UbiTennis, and Stephanie Kovalchick, one of the most influential academics in the field of data analytics who also collaborates with Tennis Australia, wrote about this topic too. It is possible to carry out some historical analysis starting from these data; for example, the table below displays a statistic that compares the percentage difference – positive or negative – between the percentage of points won on serve and the percentage of break points saved by Federer in hard-fought matches:

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‘I Play For Grand Slams’ – Serena Williams Hails Quarantine Measures Ahead Of Australian Open

The tennis star gives her own view about the quarantine process in Australia.

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Former world No.1 Serena Williams has praised Australian authorities over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as she nears her return to professional tennis.

 

The multiple Grand Slam winner is currently conducting her 14-day quarantine process in Adelaide along with her team and family as part of the rules set out by Tennis Australia. All players have been kept inside what has been described as a ‘bubble’ for their first two weeks of arriving in the country before they are allowed to play any tournaments. Those who test positive or are a contact case of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19 must stay in their rooms at all times.

As a result of the procedures, some players have complained about the conditions and how they have been treated. Spain’s Paula Badosa, who has the coronavirus, says she feels ‘abandoned’ by authorities. The world No.67 has been moved to a health hotel with her coach following the positive test. There has also been some complaints from others over their rooms, food and allegations of preferential treatment for those in Adelaide.

On the other hand, Williams says she has no problems with what she describes as a ‘super intense’ quarantine as she pays tribute to those running the system.

“It’s super, super strict, but it’s really good,” Williams told The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
“It’s insane and super intense but it’s super good because after that you can have a new normal like we were used to this time last year in the United States.
“It’s definitely hard with a three-year-old to be in the hotel all day, but it’s worth it because you want everyone to be safe at the end of the day.”

The 39-year-old will head to Melbourne Park next week with the goal of trying to tie the all-time record for most Grand Slam titles held by a singles player. It was at the Australian Open where she recorded her last major triumph back in 2017. However, since then Williams has only won one title which was at the ASB Classic 12 months ago. Although she did finish runner-up at four majors between 2018-2019.

“I play right now for Grand Slams and I love to have the opportunity to still be out there and to compete at this level,” she stated.
“It (the Australian Open) was one of my favourite slams growing up. I have so many friends in Melbourne, it’s really nice. Every time I win a Grand Slam it means the world to me so they are all really special.”

Williams’ Grand Slam tally currently stands at 23 which is one behind Margaret Court. Although Court won 13 of her titles prior to the start of the Open Era in 1968 which was when Grand Slams allowed professional players to compete with amateurs.

This Friday Williams will take on Naomi Osaka in the ‘Day at the Drive’ exhibition event in Adelaide.

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‘An Incredible Job’ – Nick Kyrgios Hails Strict Australian Open Quarantine Measures

The outspoken Australian also explains why he believes it is right to publicly criticise top names such as Novak Djokovic.

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Nick Kyrgios says he feels safer playing tennis than last year following a series of COVID-19 measures that have been implemented ahead of the Australian Open.

 

The former top-20 star has hailed the action taken by authorities which has triggered a somewhat mixed response from other players. Those playing in the first Grand Slam of the season are currently going through a 14-day quarantine with 72 players being unable to leave their room after being deemed a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for the virus. A series of positive tests was detected on flights en route to the country.

Although some players have criticised the process with allegations of poor room standards and preferential treatment for the top players who are currently based in Adelaide instead of Melbourne. Spain’s Paula Badosa tested positive for COVID-19 on the sixth day of her quarantine and had symptoms. In a recent interview with the Marca newspaper, Badosa says she feels ‘abandoned’ by authorities during what is the ‘worst experience’ of her career.

However, Kyrgios has hailed the comprehensive approach that has been taken by the authorities. He was one of the few players not to travel to Europe or North America during the second part of last year due to concerns related to the Pandemic. Compatriot Ash Barty was another to do the same.

“In Melbourne, with obviously the bubble, they’ve done an incredible job there. The authorities aren’t letting up and [are] making sure everyone is sticking by the rules,” Kyrgios told CNN.
“I actually feel quite safe. I didn’t really feel safe during last year, traveling and playing overseas, I thought it was a bit too soon to play.
“I think now the conditions are safe enough and everyone is going to work together and make sure we do it the right way.
“I don’t want to put anyone else at risk. I have loved ones that I don’t want to even have the chance to expose to Covid so I think it’s safe enough.”

Renowned for his at times fiery behaviour on the Tour and outspoken tone, the 25-year-old has no intention of changing his habits. Last summer he hit out at a series of his peers over their behaviour during the pandemic and blasted the Adria Tour. An exhibition series co-founded by Novak Djokovic which had to end early following an outbreak of the virus among players and staff members.

Djokovic is one of the players who Kyrgios has criticised the most in recent times. On January 18th he called the 17-time Grand Slam champion a ‘tool’ on Twitter after his letter to Craig Tiley was leaked to the public. Nevertheless, Kyrgios has no regrets over his comments as he feels it is vital to hold the top names accountable as he drew parallels between Djokovic and NBA great LeBron James.

I think it’s very important, especially one of the leaders of our sport. He’s technically our LeBron James,” he said.
“He has to set an example for all tennis players out there and set an example for tennis,”
added Kyrgios. “I think when he was doing some of the things that he was doing during the global pandemic, it just wasn’t the right time.
“I know everyone makes mistakes. Even some of us go off track sometimes but I think we need to hold each other accountable.
“I’m not doing any of this stuff for media attention, these are the morals that I’ve grown up with. I was just trying to do my part.”

Due to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and injury, Kyrgios hasn’t played a full competitive match on the ATP Tour since his fourth round loss to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open almost a year ago.

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The Slow And Successful Rise Of Veronika Kudermetova

Let us look at the long path to success at high levels of the current Russian number two, who just finished as the runner-up in Abu Dhabi.

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Veronika Kudermetova - Roland Garros 2019 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)
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While waiting for the end of the Australian quarantine, UbiTennis continues our analysis of the players involved in the first tournament of the year, the WTA 500 in Abu Dhabi.

After the article dedicated to Ekaterina Alexandrova, I shall continue with the Russian line by discussing Veronika Kudermetova. For her, the week in the Emirates was a very positive one, given that for the first time in her career she managed to reach the final of a WTA 500 event (the new denomination of the Premier tournaments, which assign 470 points to the winner). During the tournament, Kudermetova defeated Kontaveit, Turati, Badosa, Svitolina and Kostyuk, losing only to Aryna Sabalenka (who, between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, has an active winning streak of 15 matches). Veronika’s excellent moment is validated by the best ranking she achieved this week at N.36 – had she won the final, she would have become the Russian N.1, overtaking Alexandrova. 

 

It should be emphasized, however, that all the talk about the rankings is muddled by the rules introduced with the pandemic, rules that tend to maintain the status quo, and in fact disfavour up-and-coming players like Kudermetova. Had only the results obtained in 2020 been counted, Veronika would have ended the season ranked 29th instead of 46th. Then, by factoring in the final reached in the UAE last Wednesday, her spot in the Top 30 would have been cemented even further. It might seem senseless to keep referring to a virtual ranking based on past rules (which are slated to come back in March, though), but I think it helps to identify the players who are doing better, despite the many difficulties of the current period. In fact, we know that we are playing less than usual, and this makes it more difficult to build that momentum which, thanks to above average conditions of form and enthusiasm, translates into significant leaps in quality and standing.

As for Kudermetova, there are at least two aspects of her career that, in my opinion, make her particularly interesting: the difficulties she faced to find financial support in her teenage years, and the comparison with her peers born in 1997, a special year for women’s tennis. In fact, Veronika was born in the same year as successful and precocious players such as Bencic, Ostapenko and Osaka, as well as Konjuh (unfortunately stopped by injuries) and Kasatkina, her Russian “twin” with whom she shared the years on the junior tour. Let’s start from those years.

On page 2, Kudermetova’s beginnings 

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