Tennis icon Billie Jean King is still pushing the game forward

The Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas, formerly The Fed Cup, is the largest annual team competition in women’s sports. Now, the event—one of the few in tennis that allows coaching between games—is tapping into technology to empower players and help them take the game to the next level.

The first-ever Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Finals saw the top 12 teams from around the world compete for the biggest prize fund in women’s team sports—and the chance to be crowned world champions. With so much at stake on the world’s stage, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Billie Jean King were looking at how they could innovate and provide new tools for players and captains to get a competitive edge.

That’s where Microsoft collaborated with Billie Jean King and the ITF’s Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas—to develop and promote technology that empowers players and coaches by offering near real-time data and insights.

Off

Serving up stats

Through this collaboration, athletes and coaches at the 2021 Billie Jean King Cup Finals by BNP Paribas were given access to data that made it possible to adjust match strategy and improve player performance. The new dashboard uses the Azure cloud platform to process and analyze key elements of the game like player movement, as well as ball, shot, and scoring data. The dashboard, available courtside on Microsoft Surface tablets, then displays all of this information in a simple way that helps players and coaches quickly uncover new insights on their opponents.

The dashboard easily combines data from a variety of sources—the score, the ball itself, and the players—and then uses Azure’s cloud-based technology to process, analyze, and visualize the data almost instantaneously. Jamie Capel-Davies, Head of Science and Technical at the ITF adds, “This is vital in a game where you’re looking to get near real time access to the data.”

Billie Jean King believes the dashboard provides a huge benefit to players during their matches, since the event is one of the few in tennis that allows coaching between games. “It’s great for this competition because as a coach or a captain sitting on the sideline, when the players change ends, you can give feedback and use all the information—the data and the analytics you’ve received the last two games,” says King. “You can say, ‘Look, here’s what’s been happening, here’s what you need to do.’”
A close-up view of a Surface computer presented as an animated GIF. A person’s finger interacts with the screen which depicts tennis statistics.
A collage image made from three separate photographs of tennis players. The far left is a doubles team and the center and right images are single tennis players. All are represented mid-game on the court.

Breaking it down

The application collects data from multiple sources in a matter of seconds so captains, coaches, and players can review plays and make strategic decisions in three key areas:

Serve
The Serve dashboard looks at the placement of the serve, the speed of the serve, how successful the server is, and tendencies like how players serve on first versus second serves, ad court versus deuce court, and break points.

Return of Serve
The Return of Serve dashboard looks at similar dimensions as the Serve dashboard including placement, speed, and serve tendencies. In addition, players can break down when returns are backhand versus forehand.

Court Coverage
The Court Coverage dashboard uses a heat map visual to analyze player movement throughout the match and displays distance covered per point, as well as total distance covered throughout the match.

I would love to be a player with this data. You learn about positioning, patterns, speed—all these things that can make you a better player.

Billie Jean King
Three women and one man hold a trophy together.

Making [her]story

Today, with big names like Serena Williams, Coco Gauff, and Naomi Osaka, women’s tennis is a sport of international superstars. It’s one of the few arenas to offer women “equal pay for equal play” at some of its most prominent tournaments. But it wasn’t always that way. And one of the athletes who most vocally led the charge for equality was Billie Jean King—part of the Original 9, the nine players who risked it all in 1970 to create a sponsored women’s tour for the sport, ushering in the current era of professional women’s tennis.

When King first burst onto the scene in the early ‘60s, tennis was a very different game. It was played with wooden racquets, the idea of equal pay was laughed off the courts, and there was no such thing as a women’s tour. The first Fed Cup, held by the ITF in 1963, was an exciting opportunity for women’s teams from around the world to come together and compete. Although there was no prize money back then, it attracted some of the world’s best players and teams from 16 countries, showing that the event had staying power. Over the years, King was a member of seven winning US Fed Cup teams as a player and four winning US Fed Cup teams as a captain.

While Billie Jean King may no longer be playing on center court, she’s a huge champion of the next generation of women tennis players, who look to her with a mix of awe and admiration for her ability to keep changing the game.