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Jan De Witt coaches Jarkko Nieminen and Gilles Simon.

Better Tennis Through Data

In the first of a new series of interviews with ATP coach members, Jan De Witt, coach of Gilles Simon and Jarkko Nieminen, talks to ATPWorldTour.com about the benefits of using video analysis software, SportsCode, and how best to divulge statistical information to the players.

What tools are available to coaches now that you haven’t seen in previous years?
There are a lot of tools. The question is: which one do you want to use? There are great varieties on the market. From the ATP World Tour and the tournaments we get video of the matches, and information concerning statistics are compiled by SAP from Hawk-Eye.

Do you have a preferred way of analysing matches?
I definitely prefer working with video. On the non-ATP side we have a program called SportsCode to analyse video, cut it in scenes and prepare it in a way for athletes to easily watch and process. It’s a very important tool for finding weaknesses in our players’ games and then looking on the other side of the net for your opponent’s weaknesses. Sometimes showing video is easier than explaining it with words.

Do you use SportsCode when they are playing?
We use SportsCode after. The match is taped and the video is fed into the software. It is then tagged by someone on the team and then any situations can be called out and compiled. For example, we can find all the situations when Player B is returning a second serve into his body and he makes the return. We can combine any number of scenarios with one click to give our players the most specific scenarios. We do not want to give them too much information.

Do you show this to the player when they are in between tournaments – when they have more time to focus - or right after a match?
We show them after a match when there are things to correct. I also use it sometimes to help the player prepare for their next match. You use this technology more when you are having difficulty finding the right tactics. If he already has won his last five matches against the player, I don’t want to mess him up and give him too much new information.

What do you have to do with the information that you get?
With SAP and Hawk-Eye, for example, there are about 10 pages of information. You just need to click on it and ask for it. The key for the coaches is to find out what information helpful and which ones are nice to have but don’t help you. Our job is to filter out the information for our players.

It’s a lot of work that you have to do beforehand in order to deliver the right information to the player. I give them about five per cent of the information that we get.

When you have more time, do you use the technology differently, maybe for stroke technique or other things?
There are other technologies that are more precise for that with better pictures, better angles and more precision. There are many reasonably priced apps you can use on a smartphone or tablet. For those you need more time than what you have during a tournament.

Is there any technology in other sports that you want to see in tennis?
SportsCode comes from other sports. It was originally used in Australian Rules football. They are really big in the NBA. In basketball the software is more specialized than it is for tennis. We have to work with the software developers to improve this software for our sport. We can definitely learn from other sports.

Do you think these technological improvements could have a direct impact on the players’ performance and standard of tennis?
Let me answer it this way: In basketball or volleyball, it’s impossible to compete at the highest level if you don’t do this in the highest level. In tennis it’s the other way around. Everybody thinks we don’t need it. We think we are that good and can do everything without this technology. It’s a question of time before this mindset will change. 

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