Reviewing elite tennis performance – a CSER project


The physical demands of elite tennis performance continue to evolve, reflecting equipment and player conditioning advances. And whilst tennis performance data exist in the public domain, data sources are sporadic, incomplete and often address focused but disparate research aims. Dr Marcus Dunn (research fellow) has been working with colleagues in the Centre for Sports Engineering Research (CSER) to provide adidas with a review of elite tennis performance over the last 20 years, primarily identifying key performance demands.

Dr Marcus Dunn

Dr Marcus Dunn

Marcus has been speaking to us about his experience of working on the project:

Why was undertaking this project so appealing to you?

We’d recently worked very hard on establishing a framework agreement between SHU and adidas AG, allowing us to quickly engage and undertake new research projects. Whilst we have worked with adidas in the past, this project was one of the first outlined by the agreement, so it was great to get our newly formalised relationship underway. As part of adidas’s ideation strategy, where adidas explore new sports markets to create product ideas and concepts, the purpose of this project was to review elite tennis performance over the last 20 years, to identify key performance demands. My PhD and published research considers many aspects of elite tennis and elite player movement that adidas wanted to understand, so it was nice to be able to delve back into this area of work and address new research questions.

Was there an area of the project that you particularly enjoyed working on?

I particularly enjoyed being able to bring myself up-to-date with the latest tennis performance research; this project has provided me an opportunity to gain a holistic view of how tennis performance has evolved over the last 20 years.

What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was identifying and extracting a range of performance data types from different sources to create a database. This would then allow us to quickly ask and visualise different questions of data that we had extracted. My colleague Dr Andy Hext did an excellent job of facilitating this process.

Can you summarize your findings for us?

The review addressed tennis performance – inclusive of players, their performances, equipment and movement – for elite singles players (ATP and WTA ranked 1 – 10) between 2000 and 2019. Many questions were posed so it is difficult to summarise all findings; however, the following might help to highlight some interesting points on the evolution of tennis performance:

  • Whilst the number of matches played by top 10 ranked players in a season has reduced over the last 20 years, the duration of most matches has remained stable. However, tennis match retirement rate, a possible indicator of match intensity, has decreased in the men’s game, but increased in the women’s game.
  • Double-fault performance has generally improved in the women’s game, but markedly so in the men’s game. Further, whilst second serve performance has improved in men’s and women’s games, return of serve performance in the woman’s game has dramatically reduced, in contrast to the men’s game.
  • Both serve and forehand groundstroke speeds are markedly higher in the men’s game compared to the women’s game. However, backhand groundstroke speeds were comparable between the men’s and women’s game.
  • Per point, male and female players travelled similar distances at Wimbledon and US Open; however, at Australian and French Opens, male players travelled marginally further per point. Further, a higher proportion of these movements were performed at a higher speed in the men’s game, when compared to the women’s game

Have you any advice for colleagues about to undertake their own research project?

At CSER we have a wide range of expertise in tennis and many other sports, as well as a number of partners that we work with. If this is an area that interests you, please get in touch; it might be that your skill set allows us to address new areas of research.

Like to discover more? The Centre for Sports Engineering Research 2019 Review is now available to read.


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