by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer
Dr. Gerard Medioni, USC, has developed a system that allows him to scan a crowd and obtain accurate "character" measurements on the faces of people portrayed in the video. This could help, if proven to be accurate, to recognize terrorists who like to witness their crimes, who hang around possessed of some demonic mentality to see what their insanity has wrought. In 2006, Dr. Gideon Ariel and I were working on a project to help identify terrorists carrying a ten pound bomb. Dr. Ariel's APAS system was meaningful in measuring the differences in gate analysis when one was carrying a bomb, and about to blow himself to smithereens, against others with the bomb attached to their body. Dr. Ariel was interested in Dr. Medioni's system and, joined by grant writer Bill Kerney, we took off for the Los Angeles campus.
At USC, we were pleasantly and impressively surprised at the accuracy of Dr. Medioni's invention. The brilliance of Gideon Ariel and Gerard Medioni quickly merged and the intuition began to flow. On the sidelines, I was wondering about the application of all this at a higher, and far less dangerous level...for tennis players. It wasn't too long before I got a chance to record some meaningful observations. and when looking at the facial expressions of Roger Federer at the 2006 Wimbledon, French and US Open, and, more recently, the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, California. I was blown off my feet, no pun intended given the earlier references and conclusions.
In the images observed at Wimbledon and the US Open, Roger looked calm and his lips and eyes appeared normal. When he was about to play Nadal on clay in the French Open, his lips were turned slightly downward. Small item but significant. I got the same look near the end of the match in March, 2007, when Federer started losing to Guillermo Canas. In the other direction, Novak Djokovic, was sitting in the locker room and watching tennis on television. He said that he was stunned when looking into Canas's eyes, noting that, to him, it was apparent that Canas had absolutely no fear of Federer. Canas then stunned the crowd by defeating Roger for the first of two successive encounters.
Roger Federer has won three straight Grand Slam events, but has never won on the red clay at the French Open.
So, the obvious conclusion is that the brain is telling us something since it alone controls all facial expressions. We've all seen the expressive and meaningful look on winners and losers, the ones that captured our attention, but Dr. Medioni's work may help us quantify the emotional status of an athlete. Clothing worn by tennis players has certainly changed over the decades. If there is viability to this, are masks next?
I have been impressed with Roger's emotional state in tight matches and his facial expressions never seemed to be anything other than calm. But, there were obvious changes in his "look" when he played Nadal on clay and Canas in the Pacific Life and Ericsson Open. Was I over-reaching and seeing what might not have been there? I don't think so.
Once, while doing a telecast in Dallas, I asked Bjorn Borg about his title as the "Iceman" of tennis. He was called that due to the fact that his facial expressions never seemed to change. I queried, "Are you really an Iceman on the inside?" He then told me the story about how, in his youth, he was acting badly on the tennis court and his mother took his racket away. She also told him to keep his mouth shut when he was allowed to return to the court. Borg then informed me that, one day, he realized that it bothered his opponents when he showed no emotion, so he maintained that posture and approach as well as he could...sort of like two kids staring at each other and the first one to break up laughing loses. Borg, in a sense, did that and the laughter, the smiles, came forth each time they handed him the winner's trophy and check. He had already won the contest of expressions, or lack of same. They played a significant role in his particular careet.
As a licensed psychologist, research in this area intrigues me a great deal and I shall keep you informed on The Sports Network site with many features and updates yet to come.