The tennis court can feel like a lonely place for players at times. Out there with no place to hide, singles matches are battles between two individuals who give it their all to try and earn valuable wins and ranking points on the ATP Tour and Hologic WTA Tour.
This week at the United Cup the stage is different, though, with Team Zones in the corners of the stadium courts. The innovation allows captains and players to cheer each other on, with teammates supporting their star who is stepping between the lines.
Team France started its United Cup campaign with a 5-0 victory against Team Argentina on Friday in Perth. French captain Edouard Roger-Vasselin and WTA star Caroline Garcia believe the atmosphere created on the sidelines played an important role in its opening win.
“Most of the time we are alone on court with our staff. Now we know we have the whole team together,” Roger-Vasselin said. “Five, six, seven, eight people are cheering for us every point. So, it gives us a lot of good energy.”
“I think it's great,” Garcia added. “We are here because we love to play tennis. We like to play for our country. To do it all together, it's a really great opportunity.”
The Team Zone also provides captains with monitors to access real-time statistics, data and insights, with on-court coaching an important factor.
In Sydney, Australia’s Jason Kubler discussed match strategy with captain Lleyton Hewitt, whose support and tactical tweaks helped him rally from 0-5 in the second set to earn a 6-3, 7-6(3) win against Great Britain’s Daniel Evans.
"It’s tough to give up when you’ve got Rusty on the bench and Demon," Kubler said. "They’ve got that never-say-die attitude. Any time I’m down, especially in front of these guys, I’ve just got to give it my all and luckily tonight I was able to turn it around.
“At 0-5 we were saying to give him some different looks. To try and do some things that hopefully he starts to think about in the third set. That's where my mindset was. That helped me play a bit more proactive instead of a bit reactional. I felt like I started trying to create a few things by coming to the net, started going for a few more shots.”
Like its European neighbours France, Team Switzerland earned a perfect 5-0 victory in its opening Group B tie against Kazakhstan. WTA No. 12 Belinda Bencic starred in her singles victory and was grateful for the support provided by captain Stan Wawrinka and current coach Dmitry Tursunov.
“Having both Dmitry and Stan there, obviously Dmitry was a top player himself and then Stan of course multiple Grand Slam champion, how can it go wrong when you have two people like that on the bench,” Bencic said. “It's not like I can tell them, ‘I know what I'm doing, stop talking to me’. That's definitely not how it's going to be.
“And Stan, tactic-wise, he sees the game and everything, and he's telling me in that case, but also, he was really positive and pumping every point. I think that's how it should be. I feel we were used to each other very quickly.”
Alongside providing a base of support, the Team Zone is equipped with technology to assist captains with their coaching. Teams have access to monitors, which takes the Hawk-Eye and SMT data and presents information into five categories. These categories focus on serving, returning, groundstrokes, final shots and a physical screen. The physical screen looks at the distance covered by a player and the pressure they are putting on their upper body by analysing their hitting load.
There is also a summary screen that shows 20 statistical categories on one screen, including winners, unforced errors and first-serve percentages.
The serving category breaks down points into pressure points, analysing where players serve in key moments, while the return screen shows captains the depth of an opponent's return. The final shot category allows captains to analyse how points are ending, be it a winner or unforced error.
Team Great Britain captain Tim Henman was very vocal during his nation’s 3-2 win against Team Australia. The former World No. 4 highlighted the importance of using technology when asked about the Team Zone.
“I think technology being such a beneficial addition for the sport, if it's there, use it for the coaching element,” Henman said. “For me, [at ATP Cup] three years ago, I felt the team in the corner, it was brilliant. We've got a big team and you can create that buzz in the corner, support your teammate. I think it's brilliant.”