Tennis needs better stats. Now you can help.
Since the US Open, I’ve been developing a system to chart matches. With a bit of practice, anyone can use this system to note the type and direction of every shot in a match–serve direction, return direction and depth, shot patterns, error types, error directions, and more. A single charted match generates an enormous amount of data.
The true potential of match charting lies in the bigger picture. So far, we have nearly 50 matches in the books–mostly from ATP events this fall. Even with this relatively small subset of matches, I’ve been able to do some interesting research, such as analyzing how quickly Novak Djokovic can neutralize a server’s advantage, and evaluating the wisdom of the drop shot.
The more matches, the more players, the more surfaces, the better. Want to join the fun?
I hope you do, and the off-season is a great time to start. It will take you a couple of matches to get comfortable with the system, so charting recorded matches, with the ability to rewind and watch points multiple times, is the best way to get started. There are hundreds, if not thousands, on YouTube, with plenty more available through other sources such as ESPN3 and TennisTV.
I’ve created an interactive spreadsheet to make the process as easy as possible. Download it here. The fields highlighted in yellow are yours. The first several rows are for general information about the match. As you chart each point, the spreadsheet will automatically update the score and create an additional row for the next point.
(Thanks to Brian Hrebec, there’s also an Android app you can use to chart matches. Find it here.)
Once you download and open the spreadsheet, click over to the “Instructions” tab. There, you’ll find detailed instructions on the process. It will take some time to understand all the details of how the system works, and then it will take you a match or two to get the hang of entering all that data. Pretty soon, you’ll find that you’re comfortably charting points in real time.
In the next week or two, I’ll try to put together some additional training material. However, if you’d like to get started right away, there’s nothing stopping you. Once you finish charting a match, send the completed spreadsheet back to me (my email address is in the spreadsheet), and I’ll run it through my program to generate detailed stats for that match.
In addition to the interactive spreadsheet itself, you may find it helpful to see a couple of completed charted matches, perhaps following along while watching the matches:
- Serena Williams vs Jelena Jankovic Charleston final:
completed spreadsheet | YouTube video
- John Isner vs Rafael Nadal Cincinnati final:
completed spreadsheet | YouTube video
(lefties are almost as tricky to chart as they are to play–I recommend charting a few righty-righty matches before trying to do one with a left-hander)
What I love about this project is that we don’t need thousands of matches for it all to be worthwhile. (Though I won’t complain when we accumulate thousands of matches!) Every charted match we can add to the database contributes to our understanding of those two players and professional tennis as a whole.
I sincerely hope you’ll contribute.
Update: I’ve posted a few updates, tips, and tools here.
Update: At least a dozen people are now charting matches, so in an effort to avoid duplicating our efforts, I’ve started a google doc to track who is working on what. Before you start working on a match, check the doc to make sure no one else is already charting it. And when you start charting a match (and think you’ll finish it!), enter your name/handle and the match in that sheet so that others can focus their efforts elsewhere.