Technological Advancements and the Future of Tennis

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Among other sports, many would say that tennis has lagged behind in terms of technological advancements. Tennis players today would learn the same way, and use almost identical equipment as athletes and recreational players almost 50 years ago. The norm would be going to a tennis court and hitting rounds of balls for hours on end, grasping at the pointers that the “coach” was shouting over.

Growth of Tennis and New Available Technology

The number of tennis players is growing. According to the Tennis Industry Association (TIA), there are over 17.9 million players in the US today. Moreover, there were over 2.07 million new tennis players in 2015, a 3.8% increase since 2014. In terms of returning players, over 2.2 million returned to the sport in 2015, which is a 14.8% increase from 2014. 14.75 million Americans who do not play the sport are reportedly interested in playing it, with 12.8 million considering themselves as tennis players despite not having played in the past year. With the steady growth of tennis players, there is a growing need for access to all kinds of information and technology supporting the sport.

Tennis technological advancements are usually found in rackets, the types of materials keeping it light, the aerodynamic shapes encouraging speed, and strings used in assisting tension. Oftentimes, the technology available to the common person are these “new” rackets rather than access to technology determining the performance of the actual player. This information and data is mostly limited to professional players that compete in tournaments, and not so much recreational players. When audiences are glued to their screens cheering on Wimbledon favorites, it’s the statistics they are comparing. Now, numerous companies are providing access to user-friendly data and real-time analysis, which can improve tennis technique.

Data Collecting Sensors

Babolat is the first to bring tennis into the age of technology and big data with a smart racket that records information about the shots of a player, and sends insights to a connected mobile application. This is called the Babolat Pure Drive. The racket, with the same composition, weight, and specifications as a regular racket, incorporates built-in vibration sensors, microprocessors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and Babolat algorithms to track the number of shots, shot type, service speed, and ball contact accuracy. The technology tests for power, technique, endurance from the player’s pulse, and whether the player is hitting the ball on the face of the racket. This was quickly followed with similar data technology by Sony Tennis Sensor, Zepp, Tennis Swing Analyzer, Qlipp tennis sensor, and others.

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Zepp and Sony have sensors placed on the butt of the racket, while Babolat’s is built into the grip. The Babolat POP and Babolat PIQ are Babolat’s versions of the Pure Drive worn on the hand. Zepp measures 1,000 data points per second to determine statistics and has different game modes, Pro and Flex Mount. Sony is able to synchronize video clips taken from the device and send it to a smartphone. Qlipp doubles as a vibration dampener, is placed on the racket’s strings, and allows data to be read aloud for players who are within 50 meters of the sensor.

Aside from this, wearable technology is among the most recent fitness trends of 2016. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the three fitness trends include wearable technology, smartphone apps, and outcomes, which can be used across all sports, including tennis. The FitBit, Apple Watch, and Polar Heart Rate Monitor are among the many wearables which produce general activity levels of a player -- heart rate is the most common. PIVOT by Turing Sense is a tennis specific gadget attached to a player’s wrist, elbows, shoulders, hips, and knees to provide instant data on a player’s swing, and input to reduce injury.

Intelligent Courts

Court systems such as PlaySign and Mojjo are already used in tennis courts around the US and Europe. This system involves a number of cameras permanently fixed to the court to record the whole gameplay, checking lines, providing real-time match (and post match) statistics. Data is loaded to a cloud storage for access by players and coaches.

There are also a number of available technology in the pipeline, including a Swiss startup called Technis. This developer aims to integrate the technology in the court, to detect bounces of the ball and the position of players on the court and record real-time game play similar to football technology, Hawk-Eye. Another in the process of development is the gadget called In/Out. This device can be fastened to any net post and detect real-time data within minutes, including where the ball lands and which side of the court is being played.

Ball Machine Technology

For those playing without a coach, remote technology such as Lobster Phenom and Playmate allow for remote control of the ball machine using a smartphone for efficient use of training time. Players can change the settings remotely, track the number of minutes, number of balls hit, and program training.

What This Means For The Future of Tennis

Today, this technology is available to everyone, used not only in the racket or in the tennis ball, but also on the court -- some in the form of wearables, others in the form of videos and sensors. Thanks to companies investing in improving technology, tennis players will be training at a pace yet unknown, learning with precise data, more control, and greater accuracy.

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