Tennis Tech Takes a Swing at the US Open
Andrew Schwartz/Splash News/Corbis
Like pretty much everything else in the world of sports these days -- and the planet in general -- this week's U.S. Open Tennis Championships tournament is a high-tech affair. From 3-D action to smart rackets and even biometric shirts, tennis is getting seriously techy. We take a look at some of the gizmos and gadgetry in the sport of tennis, both inside and outside the lines.
There's no shortage of smartwatches on the market these days, but a particular subtype is starting to emerge aimed at the dedicated athlete. TakePulse Play
, pictured here. Israeli Grand Slam champion Andy Ram and entrepreneur Enon Landenberg teamed up to create a wearable that keeps score and records game stats. The mobile app that pairs with it also helps players find opponents with similar skills.
This week, ahigh-tech wristband
from Swiss start-up PIQ and French tennis company Babolat was unveiled. The Babolat Pop, marketed specifically for tennis players, has sensors that collect performance data such as velocity, height, airtime, G force, amplitude, trajectory and stroke speed. A Bluetooth connection pairs with a mobile app, where all of the data is stored.
Sony's Smart Tennis sensor is a device that attaches to base of the racket and records real-time data on each shot -- swing speed, ball speed, swing type, ball spin and impact spot. Data is transferred to a smartphone app via Bluetooth, where a mountain of analytic tools track your play data over time.
One Seed, LLC
Taking things a step further, smart watches like the ScoreBand are designed to help you keep track of the official numbers in the game. In Tennis Mode, the ScoreBand allows players to advance the score of each game with single-button pushes, and track overall numbers for the set and match. The device also has a Golf setting and some custom modes for adapting the system to other sports or activities.
Ralph Lauren Media
At last year's U.S. Open, designer Ralph Lauren teamed with tech company OM to provide the ball chasers a line of biometric apparel that monitored health conditions. This year, thoseshirts are for sale
to the general public, going for $295 each. The shirts have silver-coated sensors and threads that record breathing, heart rate and stress levels.
Anyone who has watched major tennis tournaments in recent years, on TV or at the stadium, will be familiar with the Hawk-Eye system. The ball-tracking technology has been in use on the major tennis tours for several years and is the major component of the challenge system for line-judge calls. When a call is challenged, the Hawk-Eye system is used to display whether the ball was in or out, within five seconds, and with a margin of error of just over three millimeters.
As you might expect, there's quite a bit of materials science underneath the design of modern tennis court surfaces. On outdoor asphalt tennis courts, various synthetic coatings and fillings can be used to minimize cracks. Other crack repair systems use a flexible fabric that covers the crack and can expand or contract with time.
On elite professional tennis courts, the high technology really ramps up. At an event like the U.S. Open, literally dozens of sensors, cameras and monitors are trained on the playing surface at any given time. Analytic systems including IBM's SlamTracker record real-time information on every shot and instantly crunch it with historical data on any given player. The new PlaySight Tennis Analytic System, pictured above, sends real-time data to courtside kiosks and keeps records for later viewing online. Among the company's investors -- Novak Djokovic and Billie Jean King.
For several years, media companies including CBS and DirecTV have been training high-end 3-D cameras on select tennis tournaments, then broadcasting the coverage to cable and satellite providers who offer 3-D TV channels. Similar broadcasts have been built around popular sports like soccer and basketball.
Naturally, there are plenty of tennis apps out there for the hardcore fan. For this year's U.S. Open, specifically, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has released the 2014 U.S. Open Tennis Championships app for Android and iOS. The app provides live news, scores and analytics, plus streaming live video on certain events and on-demand highlights. New to this year's app is a predictive challenge game and interactive Q&A features that let serious fans submit queries via Twitter to on-air analysts.