In the weeks preceding the Australian Open, we have decided to open up a new front and treat it with the calm that only the absence of the tournaments’ daily grind can give us. In this series of articles, we will talk about the topic of tennis data, with the purpose – a bit ambitious, to be honest – to guide you from the simplest to the more complex concepts of this field to help you understand why the future of tennis, and the present too, will be strongly characterized by numbers and data.
Describing the history of a match to obtain patterns and tactical indications is not a trivial process. It is even less easy to get out of the perspective of a single match in order to draw trend lines to recognize styles of play. Curiously, a binary sport such as tennis, with discreet scores and phases of play (and thus perfectly suitable for statistical analysis), is among those lagging behind in this field. Despite a significant delay when compared to other sports such as basketball and baseball, rooted in sabermetrics-centric America, tennis has also taken a step forward in this direction in the last few years.
On the WTA Tour, the analysis tools provided by SAP allow coaches to receive detailed information on match performances in real time – and the new deal signed with Stats Perform promises to take the concept to an even higher degree. On the ATP Tour, another IT giant like Infosys (an Indian company with over 200,000 employees) has recently renewed its agreement as Global Technology Services Partner and Digital Innovation Partner until 2023.
The use of data analysis techniques is becoming more and more common among top players, and is also giving rise to a cultural change that requires data analysis experts to assess large amounts of data on the one hand and to show coaches easy-to-read information on the other. These can be used by an athlete’s team to set both tactical plans for individual matches and long-term developments of his or her playing style.
The data collection and processing issue is addressed with a professionalism that varies from semi-handcraft to more sophisticated approaches. At the same time, to respond to this growing demand, companies are also starting to provide analysis and support services in statistical interpretation, whose forerunner is probably Dartfish, a video tagging tool (assignment of ‘tags’ to the different match events, broken up into each of its 15) first used by Craig O’Shannessy, the most famous analyst who collaborates as a tactical analyst in Djokovic’s team.
At one end of the spectrum, we find the classic approach, the one for which statistical information are useful, even though it’s not structured in a decision-making process: information that from time to time are intercepted by the coach who, on the basis of his experience, elaborates them with a layman’s perspective. An example is Nicolas Massù, whose contribution to the growth of Thiem is unquestionable and based on his tennis wisdom.
At a higher level of awareness, we probably find the majority of coaches who, not having the time and skills needed to embark on a structured process of data analysis as Massù, nonetheless feel the need to have this information funnelled to them in some way. It would be ideal for this type of coach to have a qualified counterpart, mixing tennis and data analysis skills, being able to take part in decision-making processes, speaking the same ‘language’ of a tennis coach, and providing easy to understand insights. An example is Medvedev’s coach, Gilles Cervara (up to a certain point in his career), who until the summer of 2019 didn’t use this type of analysis but left the door open to possible collaborations.
The next step is a well-defined collaboration, in which statistical analysis finally finds a place in the player’s team. At this level we find collaborations with individual players who combine tennis skills with a professional approach based on data collection and processing. We are talking about situations in which tennis competence is predominant, which, combined with craft (but effective) match charting techniques, allows to obtain additional high-value information that can be successfully integrated in the tactical preparation of matches. An example is constituted by Gilles Cervara… 2.0, who began his collaboration with a Swiss consultant, Fabrice Sbarro, in the summer of 2019. It turns out that this professional has brought a significant added value. He’s another example of ‘craftsmen’ with tennis wisdom who have paved the way for tennis analysis. Finally, the last step of this curve of acceptance to statistical analysis schemes is represented by the inclusion in the coaching process of the services offered by specialised companies, such as Golden Set Analytics (GSA), which assesses the performances of more than 150 players of the ATP circuit through the work of a team of experts. In addition to GSA, a leader in this sector, other companies provide advanced services such as Data Driven Sports Analytics or Sportiii Analytics. This link will take you to an interview with the founder of the latter company, which mix advanced big data and data representation techniques and is moving, just like DDSA, in the direction of incorporating automatic capture techniques from video sources.
If we want to refer to the graphic representation at the beginning of this article, the tennis world is entering the phase of awareness by the business domain (i.e., players and coaches) and is taking the first steps towards data analysis applications, which, enriched over time with advanced data processing features, will allow the full deployment of data science techniques.
In conclusion, the panorama is extremely varied: it ranges from enthusiasts like Djokovic, who has started to use statistical reports thanks to the collaboration with O’Shannessy, in order to identify those game patterns to be used in crucial moments. Another player who has declared to use O’Shannessy’s services is Berrettini, who, unlike Djokovic, prefers not to receive very granular information, but only “pills” of statistical data that can be of immediate help without running the risk of getting too confused. Another player who declared to use data analysis services is Zverev, who talked about it at ATP Finals 2019 as an important help to better frame his rivals’ playing style. A further example of virtuous collaboration in the women’s category is the one enjoyed by Bianca Andreescu, who, thanks to the support of Tennis Canada, was able to receive ad hoc analytical reports for her own match preparation.
On apparently more vague positions we find Federer, who has repeatedly declared how data are interesting, but must be carefully handled not to be misleading. However, in addition to being a GSA client, according to a leak reported some time ago by the Telegraph Federer has a privileged relationship and so for a higher price he would have access to exclusive insights that are not available to his opponents.
Nadal’s position is much more conservative. He has repeatedly reiterated that he elects to rely on Moya’s tennis savvy for his matches preparation (and given the masterpiece of the last final in Paris we don’t dare to reproach him). According to Nadal, the use of analysis techniques is mostly limited to the use of sensors for the bio-mechanical representation of his shots and to acquire information about his game, but without pretensions of tactical comparison with his opponents.
Concluded this first overview of the most prominent tennis players using a ‘data driven’ approach, we wait for you with the next article in the series, in which we will specifically analyse which are the most important metrics to be analysed in the tennis world.
Article by Federico Bertelli; translated by Alice Nagni; edited by Tommaso Villa
‘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.
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.
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.
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
Do Your Players Understand The Tennis Score System? – If They Don’t, They’ll Struggle Mentally
The more unrealistic expectations players have got, the more they are going to struggle with their thoughts and emotions.
A frustrated coach calls. Asks for a mental tool to help “fix” their player’s mentality. But it’s not always a mental tool that is required. Often, it’s about going back to the basics. It’s about educating players about the realities of tennis. First step is getting players to know how to count. Second step is educating players about the score system. Close to every coach gets the first step done properly. The second step, not so much. And let me be the first to say, I have not been any better myself.
So how do we start to educate players about the score system of tennis?
A bold but true statement, that needs to be taken into account. “Tennis players are a bunch of losers” as Kelsey Anderson once entitled a blog post of hers. The reality is that tennis players lose a lot when playing matches.
Craig O’Shannesy has made statistics in tennis easy to understand and digest. Craig’s work is a cornerstone in helping players with more realistic expectations. More realistic expectations equal less frustration and anger on court.
So, let’s have a look at a key static to help educate the player you are coaching.
-1200+ match wins.
-20 Grand Slams
-Nearly $130 million in prize money
Undeniably one of the best tennis players to ever live.
How many percentages of the points he has played in his professional career has he won?
Before I knew the statistic, I guessed 70% or even 75%. After all, we are talking about Roger Federer.
I was wrong!
Meaning that Roger Federer has lost 45 % of the points that he has played in his professional career. Almost half the points he has played. I was astonished the first time I heard this statistic!
We are not talking about your average professional, it’s a player that has dominated the sport together with the rest of the so called “big three”.
Talking about “the big three”. Interestingly Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the only 2 other players to equal Federer on 55 % of points won in their professional career.
So what does this statistic mean to players?
A lot of players believe that they should be winning 8/10 points to win a match. That they have to destroy the other player. They play 3 good points and then miss an easy put-away forehand and yell “I’m sooooo bad!”.
The reality is that if a player is only messing up on every 4th point, they are doing an unbelievable job. Tennis is a game of mistakes. No matter how hard players try they can’t avoid making mistakes. We want to minimize unforced errors but player’s thinking that they can go through a match without making mistakes and losing a lot of points is simply unrealistic.
When a player’s internal reality is different from the reality they are faced with in matches, it will lead to frustration and anger. The frustration and anger will be termed as bad behavior and a mental problem. The mental problem is often attempted to be fixed with mental tools. Could be a physical routine or a breathing technique. While the mental tools can treat the symptom and be very helpful in acute situations, it’s important to address the cause of why the frustration and anger arises in the first place.
From the 55% statistic on Federer how is it possible to help the players with more realistic expectations?
Here are 2 coaching advice to reinforce to players:
“Expect to lose almost every other point even in the matches that you are winning”
“If you can keep you opponent from winning 2 points in a row for long enough – eventually you’ll win”
Remember that unrealistic expectations lead to players experiencing frustration and anger. The better we educate players about the realities of tennis, the more realistic expectations they will have. The more realistic expectations the more focus and mental energy can be spent focusing on their gameplan and executing their shots. The more focus on executing their shots, the bigger opportunity of performing well. The better the player perform, the bigger the opportunity of winning the match.
By Adam Blicher
Danish Sport Psychologist Consultant Adam Blicher is a member of the International Sport Mental Coach Association
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