Exclusive – In conversation with the LTA innovator hoping to bring new technology to tennis in 2021

LTA's National Tennis Centre - Andy Murray

Wearable technologies have been a central part of the training set-up in a variety fo sports for some time and now tennis players, coaches and organisations are beginning to explore the benefits it can bring.

Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is leading the way in evolving tennis and, as part of this process, the LTA has recently succeeded in their application for Firstbeat monitors to be permitted for use in International Tennis Federation (ITF) events.

There is also hope now that the ATP and WTA Tours might consider the introduction of similar technologies as the LTA aims to support long-term player health and preparation.

Firstbeat monitors are chest worn belts that accurately capture key information about heart rate and movement during sports and for Dan Lewindon, Head of Performance Medicine & Science, who leads this area at the LTA, the ITF ruling offers up a huge opportunity to continue to improve player and coach support through developing a deeper understanding of the physical demands of tennis.

“We are constantly looking to how we can better support our players, coaches and practitioners throughout the LTA Player Pathway, and so we’re very pleased that the ITF has granted this application,” Dan told Tennis365 in an exclusive interview.

“Other sports have used this type of technology for some time, so we are really excited that it is starting to find its place in tennis.

“It took time for similar systems to be understood and accepted in team sports like rugby, but in my experience when used well they can be an invaluable tool in supporting athlete preparation, injury rehabilitation and also maintaining long-term athlete health.

LTA's National Tennis Centre entrance

“Ultimately its success in tennis will depend on how players engage with it and whether players and coaches feel it is having a positive impact on their day to day preparation and on-court success. We have a great team at the LTA and we are working hard to understand how we can use technology to provide information that adds genuine value to our players and coaches world.

“As a national governing body, we have a responsibility to develop a better understanding of the demands of elite tennis more broadly to help us support future generations of players to be robust and well-prepared for what lies ahead

“Tennis provides some really unique challenges, being an individual and highly nomadic sport where unless you are at the top of the game, you don’t have the benefit of a large team around you to facilitate this type of support when you are on the road.

“We have been working behind the scenes to find the right solutions and technology partners that can provide high quality, instant information to the player and coach with as little fuss as possible. Firstbeat is a really good example of this and we are very excited to be working with them.”

LTA's National Tennis Centre

While tennis players don’t necessarily cover massive distances, the frequency of accelerations, decelerations and changes of direction in matches are high and Lewindon suggests more research into that could change the way players train.

“Capturing accurate information about the physical demands of tennis matches and training on a consistent basis is really important as it will allow coaches, players and support staff to better review the detail behind their training and preparation as well as understanding the physical blueprint of matches,” he continues. 

“From an injury prevention perspective, sport-specific tolerance is obviously really important. In tennis you need to have sufficient exposure to high intensity, high frequency match play and also ensure you are prepared physically and psychologically for those worst-case scenario moments in a match where you are pushing yourself to your limit.

“A lack of tolerance to these loads and demands or indeed a lack of balance to their overall training exposure over seasons has the potential to put the player at risk both in the short and long term.

“You do not train at match intensity at all times by any means, but you need to get to a point where you do touch or even exceed those levels of intensity in training and are therefore well prepared when it happens in a competitive environment.”

Firstbeat is one of a number of wearable solutions and innovations that we are introducing to help support our players and coaches and programmes through the performance pathway get a more accurate picture of what is happening on court.

While this kind of technology has been at the heart of training programmes in team sports for sometime it is currently less commonly used in tennis.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray is among those who have used similar technology in training for many years and in the opinion of Dan it is a sign of things to come.

“We have been working really hard to develop the NTC into a high performance environment,” added Dan. 

“The introduction of some of these specialist technologies at the NTC is one small part of this process but will hopefully help to continue to make this the destination of choice for our best players and coaches and ensure as a nation we are the forefront of what is coming next.”

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