The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) is providing the latest digital technologies for tennis players, coaches and spectators through a close relationship with IT services company Infosys.
The sight of two athletes hitting a ball over a net might appear as far away from a digital business as possible at first sight, but the use of data and analytics in tennis, and the resulting transformation of the top-level game, could be an unlikely case study for businesses looking to transform from front to back, using digital technology and data analytics. Players, umpires, coaches and fans are benefiting from a digital tech strategy, which is now filtering down to grassroots tennis.
In 2015 the ATP – the governing body of men’s tennis worldwide – signed an outsourcing deal with Indian IT services company Infosys to improve engagement with fans and players.
The positivity of the transformation through technology that followed, ranging from providing fans with real-time stats during games to telling Rafael Nadal where he can improve, is a welcome relief from the usual struggles of a digital transformarion, according to Chris Brauer, director of innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London. Brauer, a tech professional who is also a tennis fan and amateur player, said the ATP’s adoption and use of the latest technologies offers a key lesson for businesses.
“I have been dealing with digital transformation using data and analytics for years and a lot of the time the discussion is always around struggle, challenges, difficulty to adapt, fear of change and its effect on people,” he said. “We struggle to get to the point when we are looking at real outcomes.
“But tennis players and stakeholders at the highest level are entirely engaged with this and tennis gives a great case study of the success of analytics and how it can propel an industry forward and help it evolve.”
The ATP, which is almost 50 years old, ran 64 tournaments in 30 countries during 2019. It has two groups of users that it has to keep happy, with the fan base and players demanding the ability to interact with the organisation in real time and with ease.
But the ATP is not about technology, so much of the responsibility falls on Infosys, with which it has developed a close relationship. Since the supplier began working with the ATP in 2015, tasked with helping the organisation use digital technology to engage fans and players better, Infosys has used data and analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and virtual mobility to introduce services to benefit the tennis community.
Insights and predictions
It all started back in 2015 with the ATP Scores & Stats Center, developed to provide fans with insights and predictions about every tournament, every match and every point. It also revamped the players’ intranet and mobile app, known as the ATP Player Zone, to enable players to register for tournaments, review travel information, connect with other players, and stay up to date with news.
Like businesses transforming digitally, the ATP wanted continuous innovation. Today, Infosys provides continuous research and development services for the ATP around the Infosys Tennis Platform.
Innovations at the ATP include fan engagement through digital technology to keep them up to date in real time and services to coaches through an advanced video and data analytics toolkit.
This year alone has seen a number of new ways for fans to interact with the ATP tournaments. For example, the Infosys Second Screen went live in more ATP events this year. The system takes live data from multiple sources and creates live commentary and insights. It is 100% automated, without manual intervention, and uses AI and machine learning.
The Infosys Tennis Platform, which also debuted this year, is used for developing innovative and immersive digital features for fans, players and coaches, media and other users. For example, Infosys used the platform to develop Rally Analysis, which dissects and analyses the outcome of anyone’s favourite player’s performance by breaking down every shot and rally that took place during a match.
The most recent development released is the ATP Tour app, which provides fans with official live scores, stats, news and video and a personalised feed featuring favourite players and tournaments. Through customised notifications, fans are alerted when their players begin or complete a match and immediately when fresh news and video content about their favourite players is published.
But it is not just the fans who want to be able to consume action in different ways, but the players themselves and their coaching staff.
So, this year, Infosys introduced the Players & Coaches Portal, which uses a video and data analytics toolkit. Each player or coach was given a personal tablet to access deep insights that enable them to slice and dice any match to help them prepare.
Tennis coach Craig O’Shannessy, who is on Novak Djokovic’s team and is using tech to transform his coaching, said players crave as much data as they can get to help them improve their game. For example, when O’Shannessy first started to work with Djokovic, he said the multi-Grand Slam winner wanted video technology so he could see himself play and understand patterns of play.
Video has opened up a new level of understanding for players, said O’Shannessy. “People think that at the elite level, the players know everything that happens out there, but this is very difficult.” Video has changed this and coaches can use video and editing tools to help players understand their game, he said, and coaches can create a playlist video of only the shots they want to see.
“From a coaching perspective, it is all about distilling information,” said O’Shannessy. “Probably the worst thing I could do is show Novak the match chronologically. It is about finding the 10 or 15 shots that matter out of 100 and explaining which patterns of play to repeat. The ability for coaches to create customised playlists is new and very powerful.”
Technology has also improved the game itself, with better officiating through the use of Hawkeye electronic line calling, which means umpires make fewer mistakes and players can trust their decisions.
This has brought benefits way beyond ensuring that the score is right. According to ATP chair umpire Ali Nili, the best thing about electronic line calling is not that the call is correct, but that the player does not think about it. “In the past, if a player disagreed with a call in the first game of a match, they might think about it for the next two hours,” he said. This could contribute to the player underperforming, which is not good for the player or the fans, and with the technology in use, umpires can focus on other aspects of their jobs.
Nili said umpires also use tech to monitor their own performance. “Technology doesn’t just help us to do our jobs better,” he said. “We look at stats on decisions as well as things like an umpire’s time keeping, and use the data to improve. If, for example, you have an umpire who has well below the average number of overrules, you might recommend them to step in more.
“As umpires, we also watch video back, which helps us to analyse situations and become more consistent as a group.”