Milos Raonic made swift work of Dustin Brown in his first round match at the US Open. Raonic won in straight sets — 75 63 64 — in just under two hours of work. Raonic wasn’t flawless in his 1st round win, but he played his most efficient tennis. Looking at IBM’s SlamTracker stats of the match, two numbers jumps out over the others: 65 percent of his rally winners and 70 percent of his winners at the net were with the forehand.
According to Popular Mechanics, when Raonic practices, he uses Zepp’s training tracking sensor, a 0.27-ounce device that connects to the bottom of his racket to track a number of metrics that include swing power, spin, impact location and stroke type. The technology tracks 1,000 data points per second and converts the data into real-time metrics that his coach can monitor as he practices or have a summary for after a session. In short, the tracking sensor provides data to either support or counter Raonic’s instincts on the court.
The technology isn’t too far off from what the Golden State Warriors began using during practice sessions in the 2014-15 NBA season that helped lead to a thrilling title run. In Oakland, players wore chips that stuck to their skin during practice that allowed the team to monitor fatigue levels among other things, which helped keep them the healthiest team of the entire postseason. These new models for collecting athletic data can be used in myriad ways, and Raonic’s team is hoping the data can help inform strategy on a match-to-match basis.
Raonic’s decision to go to his forehand as much as possible wasn’t just based on his feel for the match, but an informed decision based on what the data told him. Before the start of the US Open, Raonic explained the importance of the forehand for his game. "When I am playing my best I hit as many forehands as possible—generally two-to-one or three-to-one—and am not stuck in my backhand. [The app] gives me that reference."
While big data didn’t help Raonic win the US Open, the value of such information cannot be understated. A second round exit isn’t an indictment on how much it’s helped for his 2016 season (made it through the fourth round of every major except the US Open and entered the week as the No. 5 player in the world). Tech, however, is doing more than just improving helping athletes improve their quality of play — it’s improving the quality of the viewing experience for the fans, too.
Every year American Express hosts the fan experience in New York, but this year they created a virtual reality experience that allows fans to experience what it’s like to walk from the player locker room onto Center Court. During your journey, you walk down replicated hallways with all of the past US Open champions written on the walls; you get a pep talk from tennis greats Pete Sampras and Monica Sales, and you get announced — by name — as you walk onto Center Court.
While you’re on Center Court, you get an opportunity to hit a winner onto a projected court that feels like you’re there. Projection mapping gives the feel of the real dimensions, you see yourself on a jumbotron and get to hear a crowd cheer for you. It’s a unique experience that combines some of the latest technologies, supreme attention to detail and the cooperation of a couple of the greatest tennis players to ever pick up a racket. Even if those in New York aren’t able to watch any matches, they’ve been able to get a taste of what it’s like to not just be at the US Open, but to become a momentary star.
Not every tennis fan can make the pilgrimage to New York, and for those who want a small taste of the US Open experience, Gatorade’s 8-bit Snapchat game allows you to play the final point of every one of Serena Williams 22 career Slam titles. The game’s title card explains the concept:
Take a journey through the career of SERENA WILLIAMS as you attempt to win the match point of every one of her 22 MAJOR VICTORIES…”
The game is incredibly detailed for an 8-bit project developed for a social media app. Each ‘level’ shows Williams dressed in an outfit similar to what she wore at the respective tournament — even her hair color changes from match to match as you move through the years.
Anticipating a seventh US Open win, Gatorade is set to unlock the 23rd level, coinciding with her 23rd career major. For those who aren’t on Snapchat, the game can be played on mobile or desktop at serenamatchpoint.com.
For those watching at home, mobile games might not be the move. Some of us are just here for the tennis — and IBM has continued to make the experience of watching the matches more informative with data that ‘gives meaning to action.’
IBM’s mission is to help fans understand the game on a new level by using predictive and cognitive analytics combined with historical US Open data. Fans will be able to ask IBM’s Watson logical questions about the US Open and receive answers in natural languages that pulls from 41 million different data points.
As we move into the second week of the US Open, the technology surrounding the sport can help enhance your watching experience whether you’ve been watching the sport for decades or if this is your first time watching a major tennis tournament. We’ll all leave the final Open of the year smarter about the game and more engaged with tennis than we’ve ever been.