"There's no guessing anymore." Craig O'Shannessy told Novak Djokovic in the pairs first meeting together. Arguably the top tennis strategist and tactician in the world, Craig worked with Djokovic for two years, helping him win four grand slam titles between 2018/19.
The revolution of data analysis in sport has forced many to re-examine long standing beliefs. Tennis is now under review, and the evolution is being informed by data. Consider the serve, it's widely accepted that the player should toss the ball the same way to disguise the serve. Andy Murray’s former performance analyst Lorcan Reen asks "But, actually, is that true? If some players are getting away with their ball toss going everywhere, the notion of how we believe things should be - is that actually true?"
Andy Murray became the first professional player to take on a full time performance analyst when he appointed Lorcan back in 2014. This was a big step forward in the long, but slow rise of analytics in tennis. “All the big guys are using data analysis, they just don’t like to talk about it,” Alexander Zverev told The Daily Telegraph “It’s a big part of the game now.”
When O’Shannessy started coaching on tour over 25 years ago, the lack of data frustrated him. “The statistics were so primitive, everyone was guessing about what worked. Was serve and volley dead? Should you hit more forehands than backhands? I didn’t want to guess, so I started counting.” When he said counting he did indeed mean manually. To this day analysts 'tag' matches. Tagging is basically watching a match and inputting data manually, things such as rally length, clean winners, serve percentages etc. It is normal for there to be several tags for every single point.
Developments in technology, especially Hawk-Eye have made it much easier to gather data. Players and coaches are given all the information collected from Hawk-Eye's cameras from their matches at the elite tournaments. Leading experts feel there's more to be done with this data and expect future advancements in technology to give even more information.
New technology means it is now possible for amateur players to analyse their game through data collected by computers. Innovations such as the 'Wingfield Smart Court' bring Hawk-Eye style technology onto regular courts. The technology is fairly expensive right now so I can't imagine we'll see many of these around for a while, but this could be a sneak peak into the future of tennis. It might even prevent future line call induced arguments!
O’Shannessy has become the face and voice of analytics in tennis. When he’s not working with professional players, he works on analyst desks during Grand Slam broadcasts, delivers coaching presentations around the world and writes for the ATP. Craig also created 'Brain Game Tennis' to teach players, coaches and fans the patterns of play, and winning percentages that dominate our sport. It's some of the most interesting and best quality tennis analysis out there right now and if you have found this interesting then I recommend you check out his work.