The Digital Tennis Court from the Future

Mj 618_348_the digital tennis court
Courtesy Playsight

Ever wish you had instant replay? Maybe you want to relive a flawless down-the-line forehand winner. Or maybe you wish you could analyze your game the way Patrick McEnroe breaks down the pros during Grand Slam season? If you're near New York City, you're in luck. Just across Manhattan's George Washington Bridge is the most advanced club in the world: the CourtSense Tennis Training Center in Bogota, New Jersey, founded by Gordon Uehling, a former world-ranked ATP player in both singles and doubles.

The seven courts at CourtSense are equipped with a startling new system called the PlaySight Smart Court. Developed by former Israeli Air Force engineers and based on flight-simulator technology, PlaySight is best described as a club version of the Hawk-Eye video system made famous at the Grand Slams.

PlaySight equips each court with five cameras. Then, like a flight simulator, its system uses auto-tagging to track every shot a player hits. The system edits in real time, displaying the information with an easy-to-understand interface on a courtside kiosk. PlaySight tells you the speed, height, and depth of each shot. It calls lines. Ask it to show you your fastest backhand or every inside-out forehand, and it delivers immediately. You can zoom in on any shot and play it back in slow motion from the kiosk or your home computer, tablet, or phone. "I use it for 90 percent of my lessons," says Gilad Bloom, a former top 100 ATP singles player and tennis director at TCR, a club in Riverdale, New York, that has installed the system on one court. "It shows where every ball lands," he says. "Serving used to be the most boring part of lessons. Now all my students are trying to break records and improve their percentages in the corners."

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Another advantage, says Bloom: "Cheating is down by 50 percent." The USTA has not yet approved the system for line calls, but junior players know their opponents can go home and analyze the match, and they don't want a bunch of people logging in to the system and seeing them cheat. "Do you know how many competitive players told me they quit playing because of cheaters?" asks Bloom. "It's the disease of tennis."

CourtSense is the nation's only fully wired club, but PlaySight's plan is to have the system on 4,000 courts in five years. Roland Garros and the Queen's Club recently installed the system on some of their courts, as did Roger Federer's coach (and former number one player) Stefan Edberg at his academy, ReadyPlay, in Sweden.

I couldn't resist heading to New Jersey to take PlaySight for a spin. A few minutes with the system completely changed my serving strategy. For years, I thought that my often inconsistent first serve hit the service box at 115 to 120 miles per hour and that my more reliable second kicked in around 85 mph. Thanks to PlaySight, I learned that both serves clock in around 110 – which is why, I now realize, opponents have so much trouble with my spin serves. Meanwhile, I was floored to learn that a forehand put-away had whizzed across the court at 90 mph. A new strategy emerged: Use my consistent 110-mph serve to set up more forehand winners, rather than trying to hit bigger, flashy first serves. I'd never have figured it out on my own.

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