An early effort.

How to Chart a Match…

…and why it is important.

What does it mean to chart a tennis match? How much data can an individual possibly capture? What can be done with the data once it’s captured? And, how does one go about analyzing the data?

There are dozens of apps for charting [tracking] tennis matches. Most of these apps generate some statistics; some provide visualizations of the captured data. There are apps for iDevices, SmartPhones and Tablets. There are “desktop” apps, 3rd parties who can be paid to provide statistics (if you upload video), smart courts such as PlaySight and Mojjo which provide consoles and/or remote web access to your data; there are even wearables entering the market, so players don’t forget the score mid-game (even patents for wearables which capture data verbally).

And then there are notepads, napkins, and scraps of paper.

A tennis match can be charted any number of ways, and it’s likely there is no “best” way to go about it. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps its better to start with the question: “Why would you want to chart a match?”

Rally Lengths (yellow); Winners (green); Errors (red)

I’ll bet your first answer wasn’t: “To see cool graphics.” Or even: “To be confused by colorful visualizations.” Here are a number of reasons typically given for pursuing match charting:

  • Better understand the game
  • Aid player development (strengths/weaknesses)
  • Analyze opponents (strategies / tactics)
  • Keep the mind occupied / control emotions (parents)

And one that is atypical:

  • Contribute to an open source / open data project that aims to advance the state of the art of tennis statistics

Set scores don’t tell a very interesting story. A 6–0 set can actually last longer than a 6–4 set, with more points played and longer rallies. Statistics can provide better insights into the dynamics of a match. Visualizations (particularly interactive visualizations) of match data enable critical moments in a match to be identified; it can then be possible to “drill down” to discover what happened in individual games and specific points.

Game Boxes. Colors indicate game winner. Dots indicate breakpoints.

Players don’t often have an accurate view of their most effective / least effective shots. This is one of the most common themes with coaches. It’s hard for players to argue when presented with the numbers. Seeing the data can not only help them make better shot selections, it can also promote more constructive dialog with coaches.

One of the most valuable reasons for parents to chart a match while watching court side (parent of junior players, anyway, like myself) is often that it keeps the mind occupied, and emotions under control. An in-control parent usually means a calmer player, or, minimally, a player who has the opportunity to learn to control their own emotions.

That being said, it is arguable that there is an even greater benefit when players chart their own matches from video (and when it’s possible to slow video down to 3/4 speed, or less, then more detailed data capture is possible).

But, as you’ve probably guessed by now, the reason I most want to address here is the atypical one.

Crowdsourced Tennis Data

In what amounts to a manifesto, Jeff Sackmann has stated: “Tennis needs better stats. Now you can help.” He is referring to the fact that tennis analytics lags far behind other professional sports, for a number of rather interesting reasons. In 2013, Jeff launched the Match Charting Project. Since its inauguration, the project has gathered data on close to 2,000 ATP / WTA matches. More than 60 people have contributed matches (though fewer than 10 account for the bulk of the data).

Which leads me back to the question that led to the title of this piece: How to Chart a Match? How have 60 people tracked almost 2,000 professional matches? And what is their inspiration for participating in the project?

I admire the fact that it’s an independent project that already provides a quick and powerful search engine for most anything related to a player’s career or performance. As a tennis fan, I felt I had to contribute. — Edo

Charting for the MCP has required using a sophisticated Excel spreadsheet, which can seem rather intimidating, but is actually fairly straightforward. As a consumer of MCP data, a tennis fan, and a believer in Open Source and Open Data, I feel compelled to help drive the project forward. And to that end I’ve developed a complementary (and free) web-based charting platform I’m calling CourtHive.

CourtHive aims to make it easier to begin charting for the Match Charting Project, but not only that…

How to Chart a Match

I believe that we should all be charting matches in such a way that the data can be made accessible to others. At the same time, we should feel we are learning something about the game. I’m actually fairly agnostic about the tool that is used to chart matches as long as the data can be exported. The important thing is to be charting; it can be a rewarding way for fans to participate in the sport.

Third Party Trackers supported by TennisVisuals.com

CourtHive desktop currently supports import from eleven third-party match trackers, as well as .xlsm files from the Match Charting Project. The CSV files that are exported from CourtHive desktop can be used to “auto-fill” the MCP spreadsheet, making it easy to submit files for inclusion in the growing public dataset.

There is now also an open-source CourtHive mobile that is similar to many of the trackers listed above. In the future I will add various ‘skins’ to the mobile app which will focus on tracking different aspects of a match or even a practice session.

The idea is that eventually a number of different views of a match which may have been tracked in any number of ways (using various tools) can be integrated, decorated, and exported to the Match Charting Project, or added to a personal, private library of matches for comparison of match statistics over time.

Please contact me if you have a favorite tracker you’d like supported. Since creating the Universal Match Object, adding new data sources has become almost ridiculously easy — you can even do it yourself. Open Source!

At present there is one “mode” for charting matches:

  • MCP, if you’re familiar with the Match Charting Project or want to learn the shot codes and begin to contribute (there’s a cheat-sheet included)

I will be adding some simple and intermediate modes in the not-too-distant future. Also, a court view is in the works that will provide both real-time visual feedback as shot sequences are entered as well as a way to specify shot strike and placement coordinates.

CourtHive was inspired by and created to support the Match Charting Project, but there is no reason it needs to be used that way. In fact, my primary motivation for creating TennisVisuals.com was to aid in player development. The Match Charting Project focuses on analysis of Professional (ATP/WTA) tennis matches, but the same tools can and should be used for Junior tennis (more on this later).

You can read more about how to use CourtHive here or click the image below.

CourtHive Match Charting Interface.

Don’t forgot to recommend, comment, share, and follow. Also check on the Tennis Data Storytelling Challenge!

If you enjoy reading these tennis notes, make sure to follow the publication, ‘Recommend’ and share! Check us out on Facebook! Also, make sure to check on the Tennis Data Storytelling Challenge — examining patterns of play! Finally, explore Tennis Visuals!