The Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge, formerly The Fed Cup, is the largest annual team competition in women’s sports. The event—one of the few in tennis that allows coaching between games—is tapping into technology to empower players and help them take the game to the next level.
In the Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals, the top 12 teams from around the world compete for the biggest prize fund in women’s team sports—and the chance to be crowned world champions. Microsoft collaborated with Billie Jean King and the ITF’s Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge to develop and promote technology that empowers players and coaches by offering near real-time data and insights to help inform decisions during matches. With so much at stake on the world’s stage, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Billie Jean King were looking at how they could innovate and provide new tools for players and captains to get a competitive edge
Serving up stats
Through this collaboration, athletes and coaches at the Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals have access to data that makes it possible to adjust match strategy and improve player performance. The data is made available through a dashboard that uses the Azure cloud platform to process and analyze key elements of the game like player movement, as well as ball, shot, and scoring data. The dashboard, available courtside on Microsoft Surface tablets, then displays all of this information in a simple way that helps players and coaches quickly uncover new insights on their opponents.
The dashboard easily combines data from a variety of sources—the score, the ball itself, and the players—and then uses Azure’s cloud-based technology to process, analyze, and visualize the data almost instantaneously. Jamie Capel-Davies, Head of Science and Technical at the ITF, adds, “This is vital in a game where you’re looking to get near real time access to the data.”
Billie Jean King herself believes the dashboard provides a huge benefit to players during their matches, since the event is one of the few in tennis that allows coaching between games. “It’s great for this competition because as a coach or a captain sitting on the sideline, when the players change ends, you can give feedback and use all the information—the data and the analytics you’ve received the last two games,” says King. “You can say, ‘Look, here’s what’s been happening, here’s what you need to do.’”
Breaking it down
The Serve dashboard looks at the placement of the serve, the speed of the serve, how successful the server is, and tendencies like how players serve on first versus second serves, ad court versus deuce court, and break points.
The Return dashboard showcases placement, hit point, bounce point, serve tendencies for both return of serve, and the third shots in the rally. Players can use the trajectory feature to link hit points and bounce points to better analyze the sequence of events. Players can also break down when returns are backhand versus forehand.
The Court Coverage section of the dashboard uses a heat map visual to analyze player movement throughout the match and displays distance covered per point, as well as total distance covered throughout the match.
The Hit Point section in the dashboard showcases the position that the ball is hit at any point during a live rally and displays the percentage distribution of the points won. This enables players to look at tendencies of player positioning when playing a live ball.
I would love to be a player with this data. You learn about positioning, patterns, speed—all these things that can make you a better player.
Today, women’s tennis is a sport of international superstars. It’s one of the few arenas to offer women “equal pay for equal play” at some of its most prominent tournaments. But, it wasn’t always that way. And one of the athletes who most vocally led the charge for equality was Billie Jean King—part of the Original 9, the nine players who risked it all in 1970 to create a sponsored women’s tour for the sport, ushering in the current era of professional women’s tennis.
When King first burst onto the scene in the early ‘60s, tennis was a very different game. It was played with wooden racquets, the idea of equal pay was laughed off the courts, and there was no such thing as a women’s tour. The first Fed Cup, held by the ITF in 1963, was an exciting opportunity for women’s teams from around the world to come together and compete. Although there was no prize money back then, it attracted some of the world’s best players and teams from 16 countries, showing that the event had staying power. Over the years, King was a member of seven winning US Fed Cup teams as a player and four winning US Fed Cup teams as a captain.
While Billie Jean King may no longer be playing on center court, she’s a huge champion to the next generation of women tennis players, who look to her with a mix of awe and admiration for her ability to keep changing the game.