Tennis Has Gone High Tech
Advancements in gear, apps, and more are changing the game.
Long-deemed a traditional gentleman’s game, tennis has always been steeped in history. Slowly but surely, though, today’s technology has been changing the sport. No. 1 in the world Novac Djokovic’s racquet is made from Nobel-prize winning material. Top coaches use super iPads to track analytics in real-time. Big-name sporting goods companies like Wilson are developing tech-infused products.
So, in light of tennis’ final slam, we've rounded up some of the ways technology and sport are merging to improve performance—from stat-tracking apps to top-of-the-line gear expertly designed for the courts.
Think about racquet technology this way: Professional baseball players drafted out of college—forced to go back to using wood bats after using aluminum bats in college—can sometimes struggle, explains Dave Anderson, one of the top tennis teachers in the country and a founder of Brookhaven Tennis Academy in Dallas. “If we had to go back to wood racquets, it would have an effect on some players.”
But the constantly changing technology in racquets isn’t just impacting the pro players—it has allowed tennis to be enjoyed by the masses at a higher level, Anderson says. That’s because, as he puts it, racquets have become more forgiving, easier to wield, and more powerful.
“There’s a scientific fact in tennis that the ball is only on the string for about 4 to 6 milliseconds,” he says. So getting the most out of that window of time is crucial. And while technology will never replace the value of hard work, incredibly effective racquets make up for some of the mistakes from players who could stand to be more efficient on the court.
Try: HEAD’s Extreme Lite made from graphene, but suitable for club players.
“A company called Luxilon revolutionized the string world,” says Eric Butorac, president of the Association of Tennis Players (ATP) Player Council and current No. 38 doubles player in the world. “Pretty much every player on tour now uses that or another company's version of the polyester based string. Many players, like myself will use half Luxilon and half natural gut.” How come? In hopes of that magical blend: speed, spin, and control, says Anderson. If you want to try it, consider Wilson’s brand new Element String—a collaboration between Luxilon and Wilson, available September 1.
The poly string caveat: It can be tough on the recreational player’s arm. “Club players may not make the necessary adjustments to be able to play without injury,” says Anderson.
“Technology is making the game less of a mystery,” says Anderson, who says that techniques for tracking performance are just starting to take off. You can credit the first “smart” racquet to Babolat: The company created a racquet made with sensors to track your play. You can analyze everything from your skills to your strokes and track results over time through an iPhone app.
Married to your own racquet? Clip-ons like Qlipp attach to any racquet and—through an app—provide real-time analysis and feedback on your game.
“Apps have been instrumental in helping coaches get to students better and understand what’s going on,” says Anderson. “Slow motion video is critical in every sport, but in tennis especially, since it’s a game of milliseconds.” Of course, some of these tools have been around since the 70s, but just seem to be surfacing now. Both Coach’s Eye and Coach My Video allow you to share high-speed videos and receive feedback—no matter where you are.
For something even more elaborate, Playsight, a camera-and-kiosk system used in many competitive college settings, essentially turns a court into a 'smart court', tracking just about anything you could possibly want, says Butorac. It includes everything from live-streaming to video replay and detailed stats on every single shot.
If you’re headed to Flushing Meadows for the Open, don’t miss American Express’ “You vs. Sharapova” virtual reality game. If you think you have what it takes to return her serve, grab a racquet and see just how fast a 100 MPH serve actually is. And no matter where you’re watching—or what level tennis it is—keep score on your own for singles or doubles matches with Tennis Score Tracker. You can compare players, use video feedback, and even broadcast your match for friends and family.