Thursday, March 27, 2014

USTA Player Development

Minor league tennis players want more prize money. The men and women who toil on the Futures circuit play for purses of $10,000 and $15,000 per tournament, unchanged from thirty years ago. They claim that many of them must stop playing prematurely because they cannot fund their continued play from prize money.

Meanwhile, the USTA spends $15 million per year on player development. The $15 million goes mainly toward coaches' salaries and the operation of national and regional training centers.

What if?

What if the USTA got out of the player development business and got back simply to running tournaments and leagues like it did for most of its history? How would that $15 million look in tournament purses for the minor leagues of tennis?

I assume entry fees could cover the operating expenses of minor league tennis tournaments just like they do for tennis tournaments at all other levels. So for $15 million the USTA could double and triple the prize money to $30,000 per event and host 500 more tournaments per year. Or they could raise the purses to the $50,000 paid at many Challenger level events and host 300 of more of those tournaments each year.

Anyone think USTA Player Development's current use of $15 million per year produces more and better professional tennis players than all those tournaments would produce?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shot Location Charts

I grabbed a few more shot location charts off of recent tennis telecasts. I thought I'd post them here for purposes of easy access.

Gilles Simon

And below, for reference, is Naomi's Circle. Naomi's goal is to hit balls that land outside this circle and inside the court. My error rate shoots through the roof when I try this.  
Naomi's Circle
(More like Naomi's Elipse, roughly (x^2/110.25 ft) + (y^2/225 ft) = 1)
Perhaps such hitting outside this circle is necessary, at times, to succeed at the highest levels of tennis. My collection of ATP Tour players hit far more inside the circle than outside it, but perhaps they are able to hit outside the circle when the opportunity arises. They do hit a lot of shots outside Naomi's Circle.

Here and here are a couple of old posts showing more shot location charts.

What does all this mean for a player? I'm not sure. I think aiming neutral balls outside Naomi's Circle is suicide. Aiming outside Naomi's Circle on easier incoming balls where your goal is to seize control of the point makes more sense – if you are tremendously skilled. I think for the vast majority of tennis players, ever aiming outside Naomi's Circle is a bad idea. Getting an easy ball and taking an enormous risk looks like a recipe for failure to me.

Instead, my philosophy is to aim for the center of the ATP Tour player's shot location scatter diagram. There are two distinct areas they aim for: roughly five feet inside the sideline and six to nine feet inside the baseline on each side. They do not appear to target in the middle very often.

By aiming for these relatively safe targets, players will reduce their own errors. This alone is enough for most players to win most matches. By win, I mean allow the opponent to lose.

For players who need to hit winning shots to win points and matches (less than 20% of all players at a minimum), the conservative targets still make sense. As their shots miss their targets and scatter, roughly half of the misses will be closer to the sidelines and the baseline. Those happy accidents present a chance to take control of the point with more forceful shots, but still aimed for conservative targets. Perhaps those happy accidents will produce balls short enough to attack and finish at the net. Perhaps they will elicit looping replies that can be taken out of the air with overheads or drive volleys from the mid-court.

What about the half of the errors that stray further from the sidelines and the baseline? Well, for 80% or more of players, those are just fine. They are still in play. Sure they may present the opponent an opportunity to take control of the point or attack. But most players lack the skill to do that, so such an opening does them more harm than good! For the highly skilled players, some of these errant shots into the middle of the court will put them on the defensive. That's why we practice defending with looping balls, slices, passing shots, and lobs. Defense is part of tennis, too.

If you aim near the lines, you had better be very highly skilled or comfortable with losing. And from the looks of those charts, the best players in the world only occasionally hit, much less target, near the sidelines. So "very highly skilled" may mean "more skilled than Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer." If that's you, thanks for reading this, and start composing that Hall of Fame induction speech!