Tennis technology: a real game changer

MELBOURNE -- In the high profile game of tennis, performance-enhancing technologies have given athletes a competitive edge, but is this really an advantage?
Written by Lieu Thi Pham, Contributor

MELBOURNE -- The 2012 Australian Open, which officially launched at Melbourne Park yesterday, has created history by offering the biggest prize pool in Grand Slam history -- a staggering (AUS)$26 million.

With serious money up for grabs, not to mention the accolades that come with winning, it's safe to assume that tennis players and their coaches will be arming themselves with every competitive advantage, including the latest in tennis gear.

Professor Franz Fuss, Director of the SportzEdge research program at RMIT's Platform Technologies Research Institute, has dedicated much of his time to studying a number of advancements in the sports world. Some of these have focused on the reduction in energy loss during competition and, in particular, the optimization of equipment.

In addition to the raft of advancements relating to string dampers, playing surfaces, balls and ball friction, racquet technology has significantly contributed to enhancing athletic ability.

In a recent paper published in Procedia Engineering, Prof. Fuss described the three “sweet spots” on a tennis racquet that can help to improve a player’s game. He defines these "sweet spots" as follows:

The Center of Percussion (CP) is a spot on the racquet where inertial and impact forces cancel each other, reducing shock force to zero –- It is one of the three key “sweet spots” on a tennis racquet. The other “sweet spots” are the bounce, or power, point (which produces the most power for least effort) and node point (which results in the least vibration). Simulation and analysis showed that the CP is present when a racquet is stationary but does not exist once a racquet is in motion.

Research findings such as the "sweet spots" have implications for players and racquet manufacturers. As racquets, informed by engineering and physics, become more advanced each year, the dynamics of the game will invariably change.

“The problem is once technology improves and makes an athlete faster, the rules, in most cases,  will be changed as a consequence, as officials try to forbid this type of technology,” Prof. Fuss said.

One example of the counter-effects of technology was the 1999 decision by the International Tennis Federation to introduce bigger tennis balls in an attempt to slow down the serving speeds of players. The U.K. social scientist Andy Miah provides an in-depth analysis of the 1999 event in “New Balls Please”: Tennis, technology, and the changing game (2000).

A more complex issue is the question of access. “It is definitely an unfair advantage if the technology is not open to everyone. Poor countries cannot afford high tech equipment,” Prof Fuss said.

But there are some devices, such as iPhone apps, that are perceived as commonly available and relatively affordable. For example, today some electronic measuring devices are being used by athletes and their coaches for the purpose of training and post-performance feedback.

Prof. Fuss indicated that this kind of technology will become more common. “I see further development of smart sports equipment -- electronics embedded into equipment which works closely with the athlete for training and competition purposes,” he said.

He also said that in the future there will be a stronger emphasis on technological enhancements geared towards spectators, such as sophisticated real-time data streaming to stadium screens, personal computers and smart phones during competitions.

Image: Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Post updated by author 8am EST, 19 January, 2012.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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