Official WTA finals app likely to open up a can of worms

Today the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and SAP announced the launch of the official WTA Finals mobile app just in time for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals in Singapore – press release.

WTA Official AppThe app has been in progress for much of 2015 so I was happy to finally see SAP and WTA deliver on their promise of “taking the fan experience to the next level.”

The app has all the usual features of a tennis app; live scores, news and videos, schedules, draws etc. But what makes this app “groundbreaking” is a feature called Virtual Replay where users can watch an animated point-by-point replay of the match unfolding right before their very eyes. It’s kind of cool to watch the ball trajectory animate over the net between the players (for what it’s worth). Unfortunately it’s not clear which player is playing at which end as the animation runs through. You will need to read the commentary of the point from below the animation to figure that out.

WTA Virtual Replay

The default view of the animation is a normal camera view (from one end of the court) but users have the ability to change the view to 3 other camera angles which is a nice touch.


Users can then choose which point they want to watch from the point-by-point breakdown, which is a neatly organized commentary of each point from the match showing the point score, and key actions made by each player.

The app also includes additional visualisations like Serve Direction (below).


Return Strike Points


Shot Placement

WTA Shot Placement

Rally Hit Point


All of the visualizations allow you to switch between players, and you can change the Set you want to view at any time. It all makes for a very impressive mobile application, and is certainly light years ahead of any other tennis app I have seen. It is also no mean feat to package all of this content up in a very usable, and engaging mobile app that fans are sure to love and embrace.

So how useful is all of this? Well, to be honest we’ve kind of seen it all before. Hawk-Eye through their various relationships with TV Broadcasters like ESPN and the BBC have been publishing these types of visualizations for a number of years. Admittedly we have not had access to this level of information post match and in the palm of our hand before, so this is new ground definitely. But we are not really seeing anything new here.

The visualizations in the app unfortunately lack some valuable context in order to make them really useful for players, coaches and the fans. For example they are simply static representations of the data. You can’t query them (by touch), or filter them, or overlay one player’s points on another in order to perform any additional analysis. There is no significance attached to the data, like winners, unforced errors, big point plays etc. There is no way of knowing whether the patterns we see are expected, or a cause for alarm given the sate of the match, or past performances against this player. Perhaps we’ll see this kind of contextual information added in future releases. SAP and the WTA claim they have worked closely with the players to develop the app to their needs. However my feeling is most astute coaches and players will see these visualizations as nothing more than eye candy (for now).

As a tennis fan, and analyst of the game, the application naturally left me wanting more, and I suspect coaches and players will feel the same. What the WTA has effectively done is open up a big can of worms. The visualizations in the app leave so many questions unanswered, which is not untypical of a all-in-one app like this. But it does provide a wonderful insight into the potential of these kinds of visualizations. In order for players to really benefit from the true potential of this rich dataset from Hawk-Eye they are likely to still undertake independent analysis which dives much deeper in geographic patterns and tendencies than what we see here.

Hats off to the WTA for leading the way with this new-age tennis app. It has raised the bar and expectation going forward, and it definitely takes the mobile fan experience to a new level. I look forward to hearing what the players and coaches really think. My understanding is they will be given a more comprehensive app for on-court coaching, which may pack a few more tricks than what we see here. That may or may not be a good thing given visualisations like these tend to take time to digest, assess, and decide what action to take. This will be a new challenge for coaches, particularly in the heat of the battle. My sense is this kind of information will be primarily used post-match when emotions and the tension from a match have passed. It will also be interesting to see how the ATP respond over the coming months/years. Perhaps they too will partner with SAP to deliver a similar app for the mens tour if this takes off.

The WTA application was tested on an iPhone 6.

Talk Like a Tennis Player: Word Clouds

Recently ASAP Sports released a bunch of Australian Open press conference transcripts via their website. I thought I’d have some fun and visualize some of the transcripts using a technique called a World Could, or Tag Cloud. A word cloud is a cool way of visualizing text data. A word cloud application ‘tags’ the most frequently used words in a document and makes those words appear bigger than the other less commonly used words. Word clouds allows us to very quickly visualize the most commonly used words in a website, document or in our case a press conference transcript. Ever wanted to know how to talk like a tennis player? Well here’s your chance!

Creating a world cloud is really easy. There are many apps available online that do the tagging and arrangement for you. I used an app called Tagul. Let’s start with the new Swiss star of men’s tennis. Stanislas Wawrinka.

Wawrinka Word Cloud

A blog like this wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include one of the great characters of women’s tennis, and 2014 Australian Open Champ, Li Na.

Li Na Word Cloud

Now let’s take a look at a couple of the other big names from the Australian Summer. Eugenie Bouchard was the rising star in women’s tennis in 2013, and she kicked off 2014 with a bang making a deep run into the semis at the Australian Open.

Bouchard World Cloud

Rafael Nadal missed last years Australian Open through injury, but made an emphatic comeback in 2014, making the final of the first Grand Slam of the year. Let’s check out his word cloud.

Nadal Word Cloud

The top five most commonly used words by each player were:

Wawrinka: really (102), match (84), play (72), know (65), always (59)

Li Na: think (94), know (73), play (64), match (58), yeah (54)

Bouchard: really (72), think (61), well (47), know (46), bit (33)

Nadal: very (118), play (85), playing (60), great (59), against (58)

THE TOP FIVE: play (221), know (184), really (174), think (155), match (142)

So what are the words you need to know if you want to talk like a tennis player? Well you need to use “Play” a lot in your conversation. Be sure to tell everyone how you “Really Think” the “Match” went and tell the press you “Know” you’re “Playing” “Great”. Don’t forget to drop in some other fillers like “Yeah” (Li Na), “Bit” (Bouchard), “More” (Nadal) and “Always” (Wawrinka).

Given that English is only one of these players native language (Bouchard), there are surprisingly a lot of similarities amongst these four. I guess there is an element of monotony in the questions being asked during each press conference, hence the same words are used each to time to answer them!

OK, so I’m not going to get all geeky and try to run some deep and meaningful analysis on these word clouds, because quite frankly they were just a bit of fun. However we do know word clouds provide an effective way of representing text data in a fun and interesting way. In this case we were able to graphically summarize almost 30,000 words from the Aussie Open press conferences for Wawrinka, Li Na, Bouchard and Nadal (for what’s it’s worth!).

Note: The Tagal word cloud filters out common words like “a”, “some”, “this”, “us” etc.

“OK Glass, show me Tennis Analytics”. How Google Glass will revolutionize the way we see tennis.

Early in 2012, the tech world was buzzing with the news that Google was about to release a wearable augmented reality device. Enter Google Glass.  Google Glass puts augmented reality right in front of your eyes, literally!

Sergey-Brin-Wearing-Google-GlassSergey Brin, co-founder of Google models Google Glass earlier this year.

There has been plenty of hype surrounding the product since it’s preview early last year, and we have seen examples how Google Glass can be used to take a picture, record a video, or get directions.

But what else might one do with Google Glass?

To activate Google Glass, you start by saying “OK Glass”. Then you ask Google Glass to show, do, or tell you something. So let’s give it a try:

Lets start with a simple question. “OK Glass, show me the weather forecast at the Australian Open today”

Google Glass Australian Open

Imagine sitting courtside at the Australian Open and wondering what the weather is going to be like for the afternoons play. Up pops the current weather conditions. It’s as simple as that.

Google Glass has the ability to overlay all kinds of information in your field of view. So let’s try this:

“OK Glass, show me Federer’s second shot placement”

Google Glass Federer

Imagine sitting courtside at the Cincinnati Open and wondering where Federer had previously played his second shot after Novak’s return of serve. Bam, up pops the trajectory lines of Federer’s second shot to show you where he’s likely to hit his next shot. Excited yet? Let’s try one more example.

“OK Glass, show me a stroke pattern heat map”

French Open Heat Map

Imagine sitting in the stands at court Philippe Chatrier and wondering where this player is going to hit his forehand? Google Glass immediately overlays the stroke pattern right onto the court so you can see where his shots have been passing on the court. Wow!

These images are a few quick examples that I put together to show you the potential of Google Glass in tennis. Google Glass will enhance our viewing experience of tennis (and all sports) by 10 fold! Sitting court side, we will be able to control when we see the stats, what stats we see and for how long. Whether it is seeing a live heat map, or 3D ball trajectory the potential is endless.

Of course, if tennis analytics isn’t your thing you may find Google Glass useful to find a friend in the crowd, or to video a point and share it on Facebook. You might even ask Google Glass for directions to Arthur Ashe Stadium!

The real time visualization of sports statistics and Google Glass are a match made in heaven. Let’s hope the ATP, WTA, and ITF fast track the delivery of real time tennis analytics to everyone so when Google Glass goes live, the game and our eyes will be ready!

To find out more about Google Glass visit their homepage.

Image Credits:

Sergy Brin wearing Google Glass: Copyright CBS Interactive

Australian Open:

Roland Garros pic:

Cincy Tennis:

Unlocking Hawk-Eye data: What it means for tennis, the ATP, WTA and ITF.

Since 2005 the governing bodies of tennis (ATP, WTA and ITF) have been collecting data using Hawk-Eye for many top-level tournaments and the Grand Slams. So what have the governing bodies been doing with this data? Where is it stored? Who owns it? Who has access to it?

Hawk-Eye WimbledonHawk-Eye was introduced to tennis in 2005. Since then, the governing bodies of tennis have been collecting valuable data about match play. Image: Hawk-Eye Innovations.

Some background

Early in 2012 I set out to start mapping tennis matches. As a Cartographer, and tennis player this kind of made sense and excited me! Tennis is a spatial game, meaning that the location of the ball and the players are linked spatially to the court. So at any time during a match we can plot where and when a stroke, or player is. The concept of mapping sports matches is not new. It has been around for some time now and is commonly referred to as Sports Analytics or Spatial Analytics. Many sports like Football (Soccer), Basketball and Baseball have been using analytics for years to explore potential unknown patterns about the game, their players and their opponent’s tactics. We have all seen Moneyball right?

To kick off my research into maps about tennis I manually plotted the ball location and player movement from the London Olympics Men’s tennis final using video footage and a 3D visualization application. The results of the research can be read here. This method of data capture was perfect at the time because it allowed me to captured the tags I needed to run my analysis on. As a result of the research I have had tennis players, coaches and other tech companies contact me wanting help analyzing their players patterns, strengths and weaknesses using similar methods as outlined in my research. Sure, I replied with over-the-top enthusiasm. But, we have to manually capture the data first, and that tends to be time-consuming and a tad laborious. So the client says, “Can’t we use Hawk-Eye?” That’s a great question I tell them, but it’s not that easy…

The search begins for Hawk-Eye data

So how would one go about getting access to this infamous Hawk-Eye data that everyone apparently everyone knows about (like its their brother), has seen on TV, but no one knows where it is or who to contact to get access to it? Go direct to Hawk-Eye?

To cut a long story short: Hawk-Eye state that they don’t own the data they capture. The tournaments do. Or do they? After spending the last 6 month trying to track down the right people in the right place at the right time I receive this response recently from Tennis Properties, the management group who runs the ATP. “Tennis Properties own all of the Hawk-Eye data from the Masters 1000 tournaments. We don’t license this data to 3rd parties”. Well at least that clears up who owns the data. But of course that wasn’t the response I had hoped for!

I then turned to Tennis Australia. I figured they might care to share some Hawk-Eye data with another Aussie. This was their response “The Hawk-Eye data is owned by our commercial/IT teams…. but it is not for use for commercial or external endeavors”. So they own their Hawk-Eye data, not Tennis Properties. Confused yet?

So my search started targeting the ATP 500 series tournaments. Tennis Properties had told me that each of these 500 series tournaments has their own agreements in place with Hawk-Eye and that the ATP does not control the data captured at these tournaments. Sounds promising right? Well it was. The team running the Swiss Indoors tournament in Basel granted me permission to all of their match data for their 2012 tournament. I was ecstatic. Finally I would be able to grow my research, and potentially help some of the pending requests from other interested parties. However, they didn’t have the Hawk-Eye data in-house (sigh). I was then directed to Hawk-Eye themselves to retrieve the data….

Swiss Indoors BaselThe Swiss Indoors at Basel granted me access to their Hawk-Eye data from their 2012 tournament.  Image: Swiss Indoors.

A further six long months has passed and I am yet to see any sight of the data from Hawk-Eye. Apparently they are too busy to attend to the request of the Swiss Indoors to release the data (grrrggh!).

Why is Hawk-Eye data so protected?

The answer is simple. The data that Hawk-Eye collects is very powerful. It collects the location of the ball and player, the spin of the ball, speed and flight of the ball (just to name a few). If the data lands in the hands of someone who can pull it apart and reveal patterns about players and opponents (that may not have been seen before) then it becomes a potential sticking point for the ATP, WTA or ITF. Or does it? Let’s take a look at this from another point of view.

Bob Kramer, the former tournament director of the Farmer’s Classic* in Los Angeles, said the technology ran at his tournament cost about $60,000-$70,000 for one court, with much of that cost going to installing the infrastructure. Now if I was a tournament director and I was spending that kind of money on new technology then I would be keen to explore ways I can recoup some of those costs. One of those ways may be selling/licensing the Hawk-Data back to its players, the media and fans. Oh but wait, the tournaments can’t do this because the ATP, WTA and ITF control the data. Or do they?

So who really owns Hawk-Eye data?

The tournaments seem to be funding the implementation of the technology (the richer tournaments like Indian Wells have more Hawk-Eye courts than say Miami) so is it their data to share and/or commercialize? Or is the data in fact the player’s data? They are the ones putting on the show; the data is about them, not the tournament. What if Roger Federer or Serena Williams wanted access to the Hawk-Eye data? How quickly would the ATP, the tournaments and Hawk-Eye react to their request? Are they permitted to even access the data?

Tennis unlike Basketball, Baseball and Football (Soccer) is an individual sport, played mostly on neutral territory (with the exception of Davis Cup). In team sports, it is the teams who are collecting the data at their home games, not the governing bodies of each sport. So where does this leave the players? Does Novak Djokovic have to bring his own data capture equipment on court to trace him movements and map his shots? Let’s hope not!

Novak DjokovicWorld number 1, Novak Djokovic may have to bring his own data capture equipment to matches to record his shot patterns and movements! Image: Reuters

What’s in it for the ATP, WTA and ITF to unlock (open) Hawk-Eye data?

Open data initiatives have been actively gaining momentum (outside of sport) as governments and private industry see the benefit of making their data freely available. Late last year however, the Manchester City Football Club (MCFC) opened up some of its match data so it could crowd source new ways of visualizing the data and encourage innovative ways of making use of it (read the Forbes article about the MCFC program here). They were essentially tapping into the crowd’s knowledge and passion for the game to better understand their players and opposing teams. If the governing bodies of tennis were to do this it would open up a unique opportunity to engage with the fans and media like never before. Tim Davies whom is an open data advocate calls this making use of “social infrastructure” that surrounds sports.  Opening up the vast of amounts of tennis match data available at a relatively low cost (or for free), would lead to third party innovation, where the next generation of tennis fans could design innovative products, which may result in a new wave of interest in tennis analytics and spawn many new products in tennis. Imagine what IBM could do with data, or anyone else that has an interest in commenting and reporting on the game? Imagine the maps and graphics that the tournaments could supply to the pressroom at the end of the day to help report on the days play!

Opening data can be scary (but it’s time to be brave!)

Opening up your data to the whole world can seem scary at first. There is no doubt the ATP, WTA and ITF will have reservations about doing so. But think of the increased two-way interaction, between the innovators and the data suppliers. Perhaps Hawk-Eye data can be extended way beyond what it is currently being used for? Perhaps there is a revenue stream back to the tournaments that may offset their cost of installing the technology. The data may even be turned into physical products, like artwork for Nike’s next Rafael Nadal t-shirt! Who knows? History has shown that opening up data is not in fact scary, it is incredibly exciting and the possibilities appear endless.

Andy Murray Tennis ArtAndy Murray poses in front of ‘tennis art’ at the O2 Arena in London last year. Andy created the unique portrait of himself that was auctioned off for charity late last year.

Natural Evolution for Tennis

Unlocking Hawk-Eye data is a natural evolution for tennis. As pressure builds on the ATP, WTA and ITF to-be-seen-to-be-keeping up with other sports, perhaps the locks will come off the data. At present, only the TV broadcasters and national tennis associations appear to have a key to the data. Sadly, there is a very valuable stockpile of data gathering dust on some internal server at Hawk-Eye with no use for it all! Of course you might get lucky and be granted access to a portion of that data but fail to ever see it! It will only take one of the ‘next gen’ of players, like a Sloan Stevens or Milos Raonic who understand what modern analytics can do for their game, or one commentator (hint hint, Justin Gimelstob) to lean hard on the governing bodies to move this issue in the right direction. Imagine how powerful the ATP FedEx Reliability Stats could be if they integrated space into their stats by using Hawk-Eye data! Let’s hope that happens quickly. Then we can sit back and watch it open up a whole new world of tennis analytics, third party products and applications that will benefit the players, tournaments, the fans, the media and most of all the great game of tennis itself!

 * The Farmers Classic will not be returning to the ATP circuit in 2013. After 86 years, and being the longest running annual professional sporting event in Los Angeles, it ran its last event in 2012.