In 2008, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) began allowing coaches onto the court during a match to consult with their players. While the insights exchanged during these brief teaching moments could help sway the outcome of a match, the coaches were limited to what they could observe from the stands – no data, no objective tools, just their experienced opinion.
As the distinction between professional athletics and technology has become increasingly blurred, the WTA saw an opportunity to advance the sport with exciting new data and analytics tools. What they needed next was a technology partner to realize this potential. So, the WTA enlisted SAP, a leader in innovative software for professional athletics that has worked with organizations like the National Hockey League (NHL), The National Basketball Association (NBA), The German National Team and City Football Group.
Taking On-Court Coaching to the Next Level
To co-innovate new technology that would improve the quality of play and enhance the fan experience, the two organizations mapped out the vision for the future – including allowing for the first time in 2015 WTA authorized tablets equipped with big data and statistical insights onto court.
“Now that we’re real time, I can pass on that information and the player can adjust,” said WTA coach Nicole Pratt. “The psychology of that for the player is ‘Okay, I know what to do now.’ The key is simplicity.”
As a first step to designing the new tool, the team from SAP’s Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC) immersed themselves into the sport to more deeply understand the intricacies of women’s professional tennis. The team not only studied live matches, but explored different aspects of tennis’ visual language and expressions by looking at how it is consumed graphically on TV, video games, and even within tennis-specific health and fitness apps. The design researchers also conducted in-depth WTA player and coach interviews that helped identify key performance metrics that help optimize player performance.
Transforming the Women’s Game
The result, the SAP Tennis Analytics for Coaches tablet app powered by SAP HANA, enables the professional player community to access real-time data from ten cameras positioned around the court and live match scoring from the umpire. The cloud-based platform translates the numbers into strategic visual and analytical insights that can be easily shared and understood during quick on-court consultations. In an entirely new light, players and coaches can now analyze their own play and their opponents play before, during and after a match, using a tool they mutually trust.
WTA athletes and coaches were given the opportunity to use the technology for the first time in August 2015, when the app launched during the Bank of the West Classic tournament at Stanford. Since then, it has become increasingly popular within the player community, and the tablet has become a popular sight on and off the court at various WTA’s tournaments held all around the world.
Thanks to the collaboration between the WTA and SAP, tennis, while steeped in tradition, is taking on a distinctly 21st century flair, improving the experience of the players, coaches, and fans.