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Tennis great Venus Williams a devotee of analytics

Tennis great Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, views data as a differentiator when she's on the court -- sometimes what separates winning from losing.

As the use of analytics becomes more widespread throughout all sports, one of the devotees of data is tennis great Venus Williams.

Just as some enterprises rely more heavily on analytics to drive their decision-making process more than others, some franchises in team sports and players in individual sports are more dedicated to data than others.

Williams, who has won the Wimbledon singles championship five times and seven individual Grand Slam titles overall to go with 14 doubles Grand Slams, is one of those athletes who believes in the power of data and employs analytics to help her on the court.

"I absolutely use the data," she said during a web presentation on March 30 sponsored by Oracle. "I use analytics not only to learn about my opponents but for myself, so I can see what my patterns are and what my weaknesses are."

The complexity of the data now used in sports has increased dramatically in recent years.

In a similar webinar sponsored by Oracle in November 2020, Golden State Warriors team president and COO Rick Welts outlined how the NBA basketball franchise has 150 cameras at its practice facility to track each player's every move to optimize their mechanics.

Baseball teams have now gone way past the key performance indicators the Oakland A's employed 20 years ago when they were among the first to advance statistical analysis beyond traditional measures like batting average and earned run average. The Minnesota Twins, for example, get about 100 different data points on every single pitch.

And in tennis, Williams' realm, the technology is similar. Cameras can capture the spin rate on shots and break down the mechanics of players as they serve, move around the court and hit volleys.

Tennis great Venus Williams (left) and Ashley Hart, senior vice president of global marketing for Oracle Cloud, discuss the role of analytics in tennis during a web presentation sponsored by Oracle.
Tennis great Venus Williams (left) discusses her use of analytics with Ashley Hart, senior vice president of global marketing for Oracle Cloud, during a web presentation sponsored by Oracle.

Williams, who is not an Oracle customer, however, said analytics are most advantageous when looking for patterns in her opponents' play so she can predict what they might do in a given moment, such as when they might serve wide or down the middle, and whether they attempt to hit volleys to certain parts of the court in certain situations.

In addition, analytics has helped her own decisions as she attempts to control points.

"This offseason, we've worked on hitting the serve and then that first shot to control the point," Williams said. "The different data points help me focus on what I need to do on the court, and then going into each match and looking at each player is like knowing what's going to happen before you get on the court, and that definitely gives you an extra advantage."

That extra advantage, she added, when the talent difference between the top tennis players is so miniscule, can make a significant difference.

I use analytics not only to learn about my opponents but for myself, so I can see what my patterns are and what my weaknesses are.
Venus WilliamsSeven-time Grand Slam tennis singles champion

"At this point, everyone is great," Williams said. "If you can have that 1% or 0.5% advantage on that one important point, that can be the difference between winning a championship and not winning. If you have that data and it's match point and you know the other person's favorite serve, that gives you an extra advantage."

While Williams is one player who puts her faith in analytics and uses data to help her make decisions on the court, data is available to all players on both the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) and ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tours.

Multinational software giant SAP is a partner of the WTA, and in 2019 introduced Patterns of Play, a tool for players and coaches that tracks players' shot choices throughout the entirety of points rather than just what they do at the start of points in different circumstances. Meanwhile, the ATP -- the men's pro tennis governing body -- partners with Infosys for its analytics needs.

Whether players take advantage of all the data resources available to them, however, is an individual choice. Some players are heavily invested in analytics, while others aren't.

"Some players are hiring someone on their team just to look at data," Williams said. "It's not a ton of players, but some have someone who all their job is to do is look at the data on the other players."

While Williams is among those who staunchly believe analytics can be an advantage on the court, she's also firmly convinced of the power of data to make enterprises better informed as they make key decisions.

Williams, while still competitive as an athlete, is also the CEO of her own interior design firm, V Starr Interiors, has her own fashion line, EleVen, and along with her sister Serena is a part owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

"Knowledge is power; information is power," Williams said. "The more you have, the more you know. There is so much we can do with data."

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