A well thought-out gameplan is key to regularly win matches on the ATP Tour.
Pre-match scouting reports and post-match debriefs with coaches have long been part of the routine for top stars as they look to outthink their on-court rivals. Now, thanks to the ATP and Tennis Data Innovations (TDI), it is the mid-match strategic battle that could become even more decisive to give a player the best possible chance of victory.
Tennis IQ, ATP and TDI’s performance analytics platform, gives all ATP singles players access to advanced match analytics within one simple and intuitive platform. This week at the Nitto ATP Finals, tennis analyst Mike James, a member of Holger Rune’s team, is using the system on a tablet in the Dane’s player box to offer a live data-driven perspective to coach Boris Becker.
“Boris has his own view and he’s got a very good coaching eye, but what I see using the data in the match is confirmed learning,” James told ATPTour.com in Turin. “[Boris] might feel something is happening, he just wants confirmation of it — around the court position, around the serve speeds and serve accuracy. [These are things] that we can see live.
“I think traditionally how we’ve used analysis is obviously pretty much scouting, post-match in the game development and starting to work on things. Now doing it live, I think it has massive value.”
Mike James is part of Holger Rune’s team this week at the Nitto ATP Finals. Photo Credit: ATP Tour
James began working with Rune after he joined the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in France in January 2022, when the Dane was No. 104 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. He was immediately impressed with the appetite for analysis of the then-18-year-old and his coach, Lars Christensen.
“Lars at the time was super into video analysis and data analytics, as was Patrick Mouratoglou, and Holger is obsessed with the game,” said James. “He’s eating the tennis ball for lunch, dinner, and evening meal, and he’s always watching video and diving into it anyway. So it was a really nice fit.”
Fast-forward nearly three years and Rune is this week making his Nitto ATP Finals debut as one of the top eight performing players across the 2023 season. So what are the key areas James is currently focused on to help Rune, who holds a 1-1 record in Green Group this week in Turin, compete against his elite rivals?
“For me, a big one is court position, because we know that for every metre you go further back, you have to hit the ball 18 per cent harder to keep the same ball speed,” explained James. “That’s just physics. The reality is for someone like Holger, who has a good above-average ball speed on his backhand and forehand, the court position is really important to keep dictating the rally.
“Of course there are [simpler] things like second-serve points won and things like this, but court position right now in his game is the big one that we are really focusing on.”
James emphasises that analysing the data itself is only one part of his job. The fact that he works with four different players — Rune and three WTA stars from the Mouratoglou Academy and Champ’Seed Foundation — makes communication key.
“I think the feel and the type of language you use [is important],” he said. “I keep it simple. It has to be digestible and quick to get to the player. A lot of tennis players naturally go on feelings, they go on emotions, so when you start bringing in sport science, it becomes a different challenge. You really have to tailor-make how you are delivering it to each individual team.
“I work with four different players. How I’m delivering it to Boris and the other coaches is totally different.”
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In terms of its overall impact, James believes another advantage of Tennis IQ is the way it allows specific positive aspects of a performance to be isolated and conveyed to a player, even with data from matches they did not win. He cites the early months of the 2022 season, when Rune was just making the step up from the ATP Challenger Tour to the ATP Tour, as a prime example.
“During that period of January and February when he wasn’t winning many matches, this is where the analysis helps,” said James. “To give feedback that, ‘Look, you didn’t get the outcome today, but the process and the performance in an area of your game is going up’. People think it’s always about winning, but when you’re losing, there’s a lot of value to give an extra bit of confidence to the player.
“Information is power, but how you use that information and deliver that information can be destructive or creative. For someone like me who has been doing performance analysis for the past five or six seasons, I feel very in tune with knowing how to deliver it and when to deliver it. I think more people like myself will come into the game and it’s going to be interesting to see how it evolves.”
James is an experienced analyst who has worked in the role since 2018, previously helping the likes of Magnus Norman (the then-coach of Stan Wawrinka), Miro Hrvitan (then-coach of Miomir Kecmanovic) and the team of Iga Swiatek. He credits Tennis IQ with democratising the use of data and ensuring it is not only useful for top players who possess the resources to hire a specialist.
“The biggest value right now for Tennis IQ is during the match,” he said. “However, if you’re another player who doesn’t have access to someone like myself and the facilities we have at the academy, you can dive into the software and look at all the metrics that we have been using at the academy for the past two years.
“I think it creates a level playing field. What it gives someone like me to do is to create different insights, to keep one step ahead. I think it’s a good thing, I think it raises the level.”