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Motion-capture tech could help tennis stars avoid injury

What do Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have in common? Sure, they’re all tennis champions but each has also struggled with serious injury.

Motion-capture tech could help tennis stars avoid injury
The muscular and skeletal system of a tennis player as seen in this computer generated illustration

Future stars of the sport could potentially be spared such discomfort with the help of new motion-capture technology, according to bio-mechanical experts from Britain’s Coventry University.

It deploys 3D optical tracking equipment similar to that used for Hollywood movies and then applies its own algorithms to measure loads imposed on joints, bones and muscles, according to the team.

The resulting data can help improve training and, crucially, it could help players avoid injury.

That might particularly have benefited Murray, who made a cautious return to competitive tennis this month after a year out with a hip injury. The Scot was included in Friday’s draw for Wimbledon, which he won in 2013 and 2016.

“We can start looking inside the body to see what the loads are within the muscles, joints and within the skeleton ... We’re interested in potential injury risks,” said James Shippen of the university’s Institute for Future Transport and Cities.

“Are the muscles working too hard? Are they trying to develop too much force in there?” he said, adding that only recently has motion-capture equipment become small enough to move from a laboratory or studio to a tennis court.

Players wear a special suit with 17 sensors including one on the racket itself that capture and transmit data to a computer. 

“We can ... use that information to recreate an avatar that moves in exactly the same way as they do,” he said.

The avatar on the team’s computer program, called BoB, depicts the player’s skeleton, joints and more than 600 muscles as well as the movement of ball and racket, he said, giving useable information to coaches and physiotherapists. 

Thirteen-year-old player Joe Hart, who wore the sensors as part of a recent trial, said he didn’t notice them while playing and believes they could help him avoid injury as he progresses.

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