From sensors and Hawk-Eye to PlaySight, what's next for tennis in the tech arms race? (Photos by AP; Yair Assaf)



A few weeks ago, I played on a Smart Court at CourtSense in Bogota, N.J. to test out PlaySight, a technology that tracks the shots you hit, the distance you cover, your time spent playing, and almost any tennis statistic you could dream of. With a few taps on the courtside kiosk screen, information instantly came together from the system's cameras. Having my game analyzed in seconds was awe-inspiring. And it gave me pause for thought: How is technology changing the game?



Since 2006, the Hawk-Eye replay challenge system has been a huge leap forward in the tech arms race, using incredibly precise technology to solve disputes and save time. More recently, tennis manufacturers have been incorporating sensors into gear to track on-court stats, be it on your wrist or in your racquet, such as Babolat's PLAY Pure Drive. These wearable sensors are like tennis-specific Fitbits. At the Bank of the West Classic this week, the WTA is allowing coaches to carry SAP software designed iPads on court to have live data from the match on hand. Coaches will be allowed to use the iPads at six other tournaments this season.



PlaySight may be the biggest innovation of them all, with statistics, video replay, and line calls all in one. It could very well change the way children learn the sport and impact how players of all levels--from juniors to the pros--improve and compete. There's still value in old-school teaching methods; learning to combat with cheaters and being responsible for your own drills are lessons valuable to tennis and life. But new innovations allow players to have access to valuable information, quickly, and with no extra effort. It's a perfect fit in today's desire for instant gratification.

Of course, what these players actually do with that information is up to them, something that shouldn't be forgotten. And for the most part, tennis is still far behind other sports in the technology race. Since 2006, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston has been bringing together panelists (from coaches like Phil Jackson to top statisticians and sociologists) to discuss the increasing role of data in professional sports. Last year, in a study ranking 30 sports in order of most-to-least analytical, tennis came in second-to-last place.



This year in World Team Tennis, where experimentation is the norm, a 25-second clock counted down time between points. On tour, Rafael Nadal has been often criticized for going over the time limit, with critique coming mostly from his fellow players. "I http://texastennisopen.com like the shot clock to be honest. Some players take so much time," Boston Lobsters coach and former world No. 14 Jan-Michael Gambill said.



"The clock on court is nice because a lot of top players complain a lot about the time," doubles world No. 3 Marcelo Melo added.



This infusion of technology--though hardly revolutionary--is a benefit to fans as well, says 12-time Grand Slam champion and WTT founder Billie Jean King. "I don't want [Mylan WTT matches] to be longer than two hours--maybe two and a half if its an unbelievable match," King says. "People's concentration spans are short."



Just how short? Researchers have foundthat in the past 15 years, the human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds, mostly thanks to the smartphone revolution. That's a shorter attention span than a goldfish (which is nine seconds).



The consensus between all of these tennis technologies is saving time--these days, even a wasted second is too long. And for a sport with matches that often last three hours or more (to say nothing of the many men's marathons we've witnessed in recent years), embracing new technology is the only path tennis should take if it wants to keep people's attention.



Years ago, the sport embraced Hawk-Eye. Now the on-court clock is the simplest way to keep moving forward. We don't know what technology will impact tennis next, but it's safe to say that whatever it is will do so in a big way.

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