TORONTO, Canada – Former Australian No.1 Nicole Pratt, former coach to Casey Dellacqua and current coach to WTA Rising Star Daria Gavrilova, has been relying on analytics for years. For the past three years she has been using her own system to track match stats that go above and beyond the basic summary data provided by the umpire’s scoring devices.
Now she’s an early adopter of the new SAP analytics software that debuted at the Bank of the West Classic last week. The new software allows for real-time statistics and data provided via Hawk-Eye during matches, with coaches now able to take an iPad tablet out on court during on-court coaching timeouts to deliver more detailed messages to their players. Pratt was one of the first coaches to use the app on court.
“I guess I’ve always valued statistics,” Pratt told WTA Insider this week at the Rogers Cup, where she used the SAP app to help coach her charge to her third Top 10 win of the season, with Gavrilova beating No.7 seed Lucie Safarova, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.
“I’ve been using a different program for the last three years. The difference between the information that I’m getting through the SAP program is the data is 100% accurate through Hawk-Eye, like placement, contact point, and it can be broken down to what is happening on a particular point. The biggest key for me as a coach is you’re trying to fast-track a player’s development and your player’s experience. If I’m able to provide evidence that cannot be disputed, then I think the learning curve of the player is that much quicker.”
Most experienced coaches and players have a sense of what’s happening in matches. Just by watching a match, coaches can see whether their player is standing too far behind the baseline, coming in late on their shots, or identifying general patters. But coaches and players can be wrong and in some instances they may not see the whole picture. Hard evidence can quickly cut through the noise and focus a player on what needs to be done.
“I think on a lot of levels, the more you’re around either as a player or a coach, certainly your eyeball is fairly accurate,” Pratt said. “You just know. Especially given the way you play as a player or if your coaching, players have patterns and defaults that they go to under pressure. But now you have hard evidence as to why they’re being successful and why they’re going to be effective against a certain opponent if they do A, B, or C.”
“For example in today’s match, up until midway through the second set, Safarova had hit every serve on the first point of her service games down the tee. And at 30-all, the same every time. So I could go out there and tell Dasha, you have got to cover the middle. On those points, it’s highly likely she’s going down the middle. You can’t get beaten there because chances are she’s going there.
“Because of the program I’ve been using I’ve been able to do that after the fact, but I haven’t been able to do that real time. Now that we’re real time, I can pass on that information and the player can adjust. The psychology of that for the player is ‘Okay, I know what to do now.’ The key is simplicity.”
Pratt also believes coaches can use the SAP analytics to build trust with their players, especially at the infancy of their partnership. “Using this evidence-based approach you’ll be able to build their trust very quickly,” Pratt said. “It speeds up their development very quickly. I don’t mind sharing this information because the skill is in the coach’s interpretation and the delivery. You can know all the information you want but unless you know what is important, it doesn’t help. Women’s tennis will get better. Players will get better. That’s gotta be advantageous to our sport.”
SAP personnel have been on-site in both Stanford and Toronto to help introduce the technology to coaches. Some have blanched at the idea of showing a player statistics during the match. Others have been more curious, playing around with the tablets during matches to determine whether it’s a value add. Pratt understands the reticence but believes this is just a stepping stone to improving the product on the court.
“I think some coaches have already established those relationships and the trust is there so why do we need to complicate things,” Pratt said. “There’s a group of coaches as well who are afraid of technology. Maybe the older generation are scared of using something new. Like I said, I’ve been using stats for three years now and I had a bit of apprehension with this SAP program because it was unfamiliar. Whereas what was familiar to me was so simple, yet everyone else thought it was so complicated. But once you get your system down it’s so easy.”
Other sports have used detailed levels of analytics for years. The level of real-time analytics being offered by SAP is brand new to tennis. Pratt sees it as just the beginning.
“It’s in its infancy in tennis, it really is,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting to think where the game can go if players and coaches embrace the technology that’s available. It comes down to doing things a little differently and taking a risk. I think it’s exciting times in tennis because it really hasn’t been used. The other exciting thing for women’s tennis is we’ve seen the amazing improvements in physicality in the game. But using analytics can help bring the game to another level as well.”