Feminist Computing #5: Martina Navratilova’s Tennis Computer

Last month I gave a lecture at Toronto’s Trampoline Hall titled “The Many Wives of Martina Navratilova.” The talk, part of a night curated by Jon Davies, had little to do with my “real” research but it was a lot of fun, and what came out in the wash was this quite lovely entry for my collection of feminist computing stories.

The Coaching Computer

“Robert Haas, the man who programmed my nutritional needs, and an associate of his have designed and programmed a tennis computer that I have used from time to time. The computer is fed an entire tennis match about thirty times, analyzing and breaking down the points stroke by stroke until previously unseen patterns become evident. What we look for in this breakdown are my patterns and those of my opponent. We find tendencies. Perhaps one top player will continually hit a return to the same spot at break point, or hit the ball harder, or perhaps slice more when down. What the computer has pointed up is that when the pressure is on, players stay true to their tendencies, and this knowledge is helpful against patterned players such as Chris Evert Lloyd and Tracy Austin. By understanding both my game and that of my opponent, I feel as though I have a far clearer insight into what my future matches might hold. The computer is a good accurate scout.”

– Martina Navratilova, Tennis My Way (1983), p. 190.