From the days of wooden rackets strung with natural gut to the latest interactive tennis rackets, technology has transformed the game of tennis.
Manufacturers spend vast amounts of time and money developing the next generation of equipment, shaving a fraction of a gram off the weight of a shoe or creating a string that will generate that little bit of extra topspin.
Behind the scenes, the International Tennis Federation has its own state-of-the-art research facility, working with sports scientists and engineers as well as leading industry professionals at the ITF headquarters in London.
As the sport’s governing body, the ITF is responsible for approving court surfaces and tennis equipment. The technical team is guided by the Technical Commission, which is chaired by ITF board member and former LTA President Stuart Smith.
When certifying new products, the rules are interpreted to judge whether innovations in equipment are a benefit to players or a threat to the traditional nature of the game.
January saw the introduction of Player Analysis Technology, allowing players to use interactive equipment that gathers data about their performance, although players are not permitted to access this information during a match.
Player Analysis Technology, or PAT, is classified as any equipment that collects, stores, transmits, analyses or communicates information on a player performance. This could be a heart-rate monitor, an interactive racket or player tracking system.
The new rule was approved at the International Tennis Federation Annual General Meeting in July 2013, but that is only the tip of the iceberg for the ITF technical team.
Rule 31 requires all PAT equipment to be approved by the ITF prior to use, and so far four products have been certified.
“We started the process with PAT back in the summer of 2012,” explains Janet Page, ITF Science & Technical Administrator. “Initially we developed a procedure and worked with the Tours. Then it had to be passed by the ITF Technical Commission and then it went to the board for approval at the ITF AGM, which took place in Paris last July.
“Once the rule was accepted we had to communicate and publicise the rule change and since then we have been working on approving PAT equipment. We have managed to get a few approved already and we have some others we are testing at the moment.”
Over the coming months, TIA UK News will take a closer look at the work of the ITF technical team, consisting of three main areas; racket technology, tennis ball technology and court surface testing.
“The lab consists of two old squash courts which was converted into a research facility,” says Page. “We have a wind tunnel, and area for testing tennis balls and a machine that tests rackets for power and spin. We also test court surface samples.
“During the winter months we are predominantly in the lab testing balls, but in the coming months hopefully we’ll get out more often testing court surfaces around the world.”