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Technology ‘will change the way we play ball sports forever’

Novak Djokovic and Billie Jean King have become the latest investors in a ground-breaking analytic system that according to the CEO of its investment holding company “has the potential to revolutionise tennis”.

Based on concepts originally designed to train fighter pilots, PlaySight‘s SmartCourt uses five HD cameras positioned around a court to automatically classify and tag all the events that take place during a session without the need for court-side operators or wearable sensors.

Players can then watch selected events (e.g. every backhand down the line that went long or every unforced error), with no need to watch the whole video or manually tag it. PlaySight is also able to record 3D tactical game management information including the height of balls over the net, speed of every shot and the depth of balls hit within the court.

World No.2 Djokovic was amazed by the technology when he saw it in action, as Chen Shachar, PlaySight CEO, explains: “Even players at the level of Djokovic today don’t have access to such technology and he saw it in action and was very impressed and this is why he wanted to be part of it. It was reassuring and confirmation that people at that level, like Billie Jean King and Novak Djokovic, believe in the vision of making evolution in tennis. This is what we are after, we are really going to make a difference in the way people play and train and analyse their game and having them as part of the revolution is a great reassurance we are on the right tracks.”

Shachar and the other two founders of PlaySight come from a military background but decided to take on the challenge of transferring their knowledge into sport after a complaint from one of their daughters.

“She was about 10 at the time,” says Shachar. “She came back one day from tennis coaching and said they have no technology in training and training is being done like it was done 50 years ago. That was the pretext to begin this adventure.

“When we evaluated the business potential we knew that what you call social technology, all the technology not for elite players but for recreational players like the Nike+ and fitbit bracelets, was very developed for basic sports like running, cycling and those kinds of things, but not for tennis. We had a lot of experience with hi-tech technology, specifically image processing and what we wanted to do is to bring the most advanced tracking technology or player analytic technology to the masses. We come from 15 years of developing hi-tech technology for the military so the migration to sport with regards to technology was not a big challenge, the challenge was to do something that was usable and enjoyable and give a good experience to the user.”

Mark Ein, CEO of growth investment holding company Venturehouse Group, believes the technology has the “potential to revolutionise the game of tennis” and Shachar is equally as excited about its potential.

SmartCourt is operated by players through a courtside kiosk, and all video and data can be shared within seconds via social media. Players can also track distance covered and calories burned during a match or practice session. The technology is already in use at 35 centres, including Roland Garros, The Queen’s Club and Stefan Edberg’s academy in Sweden, and is approved by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for use in amateur tournaments. It is hoped that at least 100-ITF approved SmartCourts will be installed by the end of 2014.

“When we meet coaches and demonstrate the system to them they can’t believe it can actually do what it does,” says Shachar. “For especially pros it’s something they dreamt of all long that someone will come one day and do that and now it is here. The solution that we have provided is a very holistic solution that provides almost everything, we track the ball and the player and we track his activity and we provide the full picture of performance, if you compare it to other systems in the market they give very good information about the racket, some give very good information about the ball, but nobody gives the full solution like we do.

“The technology is applicable to all players at all levels. Players at the top level can benefit from it and also juniors at the beginning on the first steps on their game can benefit even more. When we built the system we built it specifically for club level, although the technology could be used for the tour or the pros in our vision we wanted to create a system that will be for the masses, it will be a standard. Our vision is in a few years every tennis centre will have several SmartCourts, like you have clay courts, hard courts, grass, you have SmartCourts.

“Technology is becoming an integral sport of training and practice in sport. It will change the way we play ball sports forever.”