If technology were to be explained in a stepwise progression, tennis serves quite an example. From virtually no electronic equipment on court to high-speed cameras using triangulated principles, we have come a long way folks. Let us have a look at some ground-breaking advances that helped in uplifting the game’s standards.
Speed Serve Displays
During World War II, Jon L. Barker Sr. and Ben Midlock invented the radar gun for the military. This gun was used to measure the speed of moving objects. Shortly after, speed serve displays were invented with the aid of radar guns. 10 tracking cameras are placed at the baseline. These cameras along with the radars, capture the live action in real time. The speed of the serve is measured while this is recorded. Currently, FlightScope is the most widely used ITF approved serve speed measurement system. Once the speed is recorded, the speed of the serve is displayed on the big screen.
In the Wimbledon Championships of 1980, tennis took a huge leap by introducing this technological advancement. Bill Carlton and Margaret Parnis England came up with an electronic system that could judge whether or not the serve is in or not. Before each point, the service line umpire activates the system. Around five to six horizontal infra-red beams are projected 10 mm above the ground. One beam covers the good side of the service line (correct service) and the other beams cover the fault side. When a ball hits the first beam, other beams are turned off. In case of a long serve, other beams will be turned off. An audible signal indicates a long serve. The system has improved in its accuracy but surprisingly there are no statistics that show how accurate it is. In 2007, Wimbledon removed the cyclops system and introduced the Hawk-Eye. The cyclops is no longer used in any of the Grand Slam events.
In November 2003, the ITF, ATP ad WTA collaborated in order to set up an evaluation scheme for automated line-calling systems. As a result in the 2004 US Open’s qualifying round, the Auto-Ref was introduced. Based in Waterloo, Ontario Auto-Ref Inc. comprises of a system wherein eight cameras are attached to the court above which are placed in a way they face the courts. These cameras record all the live action and are all inter-connected and governed by a central server. Officials of the Auto-Ref claim that this technology is accurate till a range of 4 mm.
One of the most featured technological progresses in Grand Slam tournaments is the Pointtracker. Its been more than a decade since IBM came up with this technology . It is a 3D application which allows the user to view a point from a set and see it based on various statistics. Each point can be viewed from different camera angles. These angles can be overhead, from the umpire’s view, from the net or from the view of the players. Each point’s service speed, return speed, winner speed can be known as the point progresses. The user can also adjust the number of shots that he wants to view at one particular time and the track of the ball as the rally progresses. Points can also be grouped based on aces, forehand winners, backhand winners, unforced errors and many more categories.
John McEnroe was known for challenging umpire calls and arguing against them. FastCam Replay LLC and DEL Imagins Systems LLC were two companies which came up with a system to replay close or controversial line calls. The MacCam system derives its name from McEnroe. McEnroe was a tennis analyst at CBS. CBS thus became the first network to widely use the MacCam technology. A major drawback of the MacCam system is that it could evaluate only the baseline and not the side lines or service lines. It was introduced in the 2004 US Open Championships but was discontinued pretty soon due to the advent of the Hawk-Eye system.
This is the most widely accepted automated line-calling system in modern times. In 1999, Dr. Paul Hawkins’ research was funded by The Television Corporation. After 2 years, he came up with the Hawkeye. The Hawkeye comprises of ten high speed cameras which are placed underneath the roof of the stadium. The ball’s trajectory is made in a three dimensional aspect when videos from six cameras are merged together. A group of pixels is identified the system which corresponds to that of the ball. The ball is then captured in continuous frames which help in tracing its path. The technology is used in more than 80 tournaments and surprisingly Roland Garros doesn’t feature in the list. The officials feel that the ball leaves a mark on the clay and so the umpire himself goes to the mark of doubt and checks whether the ball is in or out.
Net Cord Sensor
At the top of the net a “piezoelectric” device is attached. As complicated it sounds, its function is relatively simple. It converts any vibrations that it detects and converts it into electrical energy thereby setting off a “beep” sound. This system is helpful to the umpires as it can monitor whether a serve should be called let or not.
The 2011 edition of Wimbledon marked an upgrade to tennis analytics. IBM introduced SecondSight, a tool that helps in tracking players’ stamina, distance covered, movement and style of play. The technology that this system utilizes was originally developed for military use. Multiple cameras placed behind the umpire capture a player’s data. This data is then analyzed by an algorithm developed by IBM whose output shows a 3-D interpretation in real time.
The ITF’s Rule No.31 explains that any equipment should be defined as Player Analysis Technology (PAT) before their use. In 2013, a Swiss startup company, Kitris Kit, became the first PAT to gain this approval. The Kitris Kit is worn on the wrist. It records how the player wins each of his points, serves as a scorecard, helps in evaluating a player’s strengths and weaknesses, how much time a player spent on the court per match, how a player deals with break points and set points and many such statistics. The data can be downloaded by connecting the Kitris Kit to a computer. Since it acts as an on-court coach, its use is prohibited during the matches and is restricted to training purpose.
The latest advance as far as tennis technology is concerned are the attachment microchips. These microchips are placed on the butt of the racquet and are useful in recording the information related to the swing of the ball and the contact between the ball and the racquet. Zepp and Sony are two companies which are known to create such microchips.
Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash was against this technology and hinted at the cessation of advancements in tennis.
“This microchip technology is by and large a gimmick for the time being, but soon we could see nanotechnology stiffening or adding flexibility instantly to a frame, correcting any miscontact. In the next five or ten years racquets are going to become increasingly powerful. If this is going to be the case, the International Tennis Federation, being the rule makers of this game, should do something to halt the advance.”