Help Is Available If You Want It

Not for the first time, a boffin is on his way to radically changing a sport. This time it’s the way tennis coaches can make use of technology to improve their charge’s tactics.

The Australian reports that a USA-based Aussie, Damien Saunder, is collecting data from Hawkeye files to better guide tennis players on where to place their serves, for example. Saunder is a geospatial designer specialising in online mapping and data visualisation. He grew up playing tennis and AFL in Wangaratta.

“Tennis is a spatial game, meaning that the location of the ball or where a stroke or player is and therefore we can begin to understand the spatial patters about the sport”, Saunder said. “Many sports, like football, basketball and baseball have been using analytics for years to explore potential unknown patterns about the game, their players and opponent’s tactics”.

Currently, analysis of this sort is in widespread use by AFL and NRL clubs and the Australian Institute of Sport to check how well their players are doing, where they run, jump or swim, where injuries occur and how much work they do – and more.

Saunder’s technique goes well beyond the data you might have already seen on Hawkeye screens. For example, it not only looks at where the server places the ball but also how well the receiver handles it.

The underlying technology seems ideally suited to working out how best to design a greyhound track. Science will beat opinion any time.

A small example is already here as Tasmanian thoroughbreds carry a GPS marker to allow authorities to pinpoint their exact positions at various stages of the race and then calculate sectional times accurately. (What a pity they can’t move on to local dog races, where existing practices are hopelessly in error).

ANOTHER EXAMPLE

Full marks for GRV in its effort to rebuild the Healesville straight track. I had thought it improved considerably on the previous version – and it probably did. However a review of the heats of the Cup racing last Sunday revealed a great deal of unpredictable lateral movement, mostly from dogs veering over to the rail and the inside lure. Even dogs racing out wide were crabbing their way along, keen to get a better sight of the lure.

Relatively, little of that happens at Capalaba in Queensland, where they use a centre drag lure. So how best to do it?

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

At Wentworth Park on Saturday Xylia Allen did what she normally does and won. Sweet It Is did what she normally does and lost. They ran 41.76 and 42.15 respectively.

Xylia Allen gets out quickly and leads. Sweet It Is comes out slowly and has to find her way through the maze, usually getting held up a couple of times. Those have always been their patterns and that’s what happened at Wenty.

And that’s why the result at Cannington in the Nationals was an aberration – a top effort from both but still an aberration. As were their relative starting prices. Sweet It Is may well have improved slightly over the last couple of months but that still does not make her a reliable bet in a top race. Apart from the winner, her opposition in the Chairman’s Cup heat was not too marvellous yet punters paid dearly to see her go down at $1.30. If you put a dollar on her both times, you are now losing money.

It’s not just these two. For years now the majority of top staying races have been taken out by leaders. Their staying capacity comes second. See, for example, Bentley Babe, Flashing Floods, Irma Bale and perhaps Dashing Corsair. Admittedly, genuine staying types have often been thin on the ground but that’s another story again.

It also makes another point. While a change of kennel to a top mentor may well produce good results (as with Sweet It Is), you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Sometimes, the stories concentrate on the successes, and ignore the failures, much as punters will tell you about their wins but never their losses. Essentially, Sweet It Is is still what she always was – a talented but slow-beginning stayer.

The bigger disappointment at Wenty was the poor showing of Dusty Moonshine, which was only a shadow of the dog that ran in the 41.90s three times in a row. It would not have beaten Xylia Allen anyway but a fading 42.54 after a good start tells us it was nowhere near its best form. It simply was not fit enough for this class and will not make the final.

Now to the future. Based on its history, Xylia Allen will not be able to repeat its heat time with the final only seven short days away. Whether it can still win is the hard question. Odds-on, look on!

DOLLARS AIN’T DOLLARS

I refuse to read, digest or believe any more stories about record prize money unless the authors first correct their data for inflation. Just to take one example, Xylia Allen, for all her brilliance, would not live with a former “record” money winner, Rapid Journey, if you put them up ten times in a row. Nor with Miata at the other end of the distance scale. Xylia Allen does score in the versatility stakes, but is probably best served over the middle distances.

That inflation, incidentally, has occurred not just in broad economic terms but it the way the industry allocates prize money. Neither of those other two dogs competed for $250,000 to $350,000 first prizes in relative or absolute terms.

Somebody with the data should set, say, the year 2000 as a base and adjust everything back to that level.