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Tech Puts a Spin on Tennis at the US Open

Thanks to increasingly sophisticated and available analytics, wearable tech and smart devices, tennis fanatics have never been closer to the pros.


Advances in sports technology and analytics are fueling the rise of tennis’s new star: The fan. This year’s US Open, which begins Aug. 31 in Flushing, NY, marks an influx of tech that enables spectators to experience the speed and power of world-class tennis like never before, and to improve their game with the same tools as the pros.

Technology is already revolutionizing the fan experience in a sport where jaw-dropping feats of individual athleticism have always encouraged personal identification with its superstars. Fellow tennis fanatics have never been closer to the pros, whether we’re watching from home or playing at the neighborhood court, thanks to increasingly sophisticated and available analytics, wearable tech and smart devices.

Take First V1sion, a sports-technology startup that was one of the finalists in Intel’s Make It Wearable competition last year. Its camera-equipped biometric shirt allows you to watch sporting events from the point of view of your favorite player. Still in development, First V1sion is well suited to tennis’s nonstop action, giving spectators a firsthand experience of the lightning agility required for high-level competition. In fact, the end product is so exhilarating that some users have reported motion sickness after viewing it.

Technology is not only changing how we watch the sport, but weaving together our reactions to create a real-time portrait of the tennis community that puts spectators right in the middle of the action.

At Wimbledon this year, luxury-car manufacturer Jaguar used biometric wristbands, motion sensors and social media analytics to produce a detailed analysis of the crowd’s shifting emotions. Although this approach was a first, it confirms that tournaments’ moments of high drama can cause our hearts to skip a beat.

A complete understanding of the modern tennis world now includes not only the play itself, but also related activity on social media, where young hopefuls and former superstars interact. Fans are inserting themselves into tennis at an unprecedented rate, their reactions tied to their heroes’ match results.

Of course, picking up a racket is a natural response to watching great tennis, and once fans leave the technology now in the stands, they’ll find it waiting at the baseline.

After soaking in match highlights, I’m often inspired to work on my own game. By using the same tennis tech as the pros, I get a nuanced picture of how I can improve, even if that data only reinforces the vast gulf separating me from the best in the world.

Stepping onto a court equipped with PlaySight, an advanced video-analytics platform, I can track and replay every backhand I hit wide. A Babolat smart racket, the same one that Rafael Nadal uses, allows my instructor to tailor his coaching tips to the specific strengths and weaknesses of my most recent matches.

For even more immediate feedback, the practice sessions of amateurs and pros alike might eventually benefit from the smart glasses and heads-up displays currently used in biking and running. Offered by high-tech equipment companies like Recon Instruments, these devices stream real-time information just below an athlete’s right eye. Imagine a feature that tracks the trajectory of an incoming serve, or tells you exactly how fast it’s moving.

A few years ago, the devices necessary to capture these insights would have been bulky and wildly expensive. Now, even today’s weekend player can enjoy the benefits of smart rackets, shoes and armbands, thanks to Moore’s law. Gordon Moore’s famous prediction, which just marked its 50th anniversary, has driven manufacturers to double computing power every two years, creating exponentially smaller, more complex and affordable tech products. Even though we’ll never be as quick or skilled as top-ranked competitors, we now have access to sports metrics and data analytics that are just as powerful.

The next tennis prodigy is out there, analyzing her favorite player’s matches and searching for an edge of her own. If the sport continues to embrace technology, tomorrow’s phenom will have experienced what it’s like to be a pro long before her first US Open.

Intel CIO Kim Stevenson is a tennis enthusiast. Reach her @Kimsstevenson.

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