Sports

High-tech Tennis: enhancing the viewer’s experience

Lara Williams

Lara Williams, Editor-at-large

Green grass, tennis whites, strawberries & cream – the traditional atmosphere of Wimbledon seems like the last place you’d find cutting-edge technology. Yet both on & off court, technological innovations are in action.

IBM has been working with the All England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon since 1990, using the tournament as a platform to trial and demonstrate their latest innovations in security, AI and data analytics.

The partnership took Wimbledon to the internet in 1995, introduced the LED In-Ground Match Information screen in 2001 and the first Grand Slam Tennis iPhone app in 2009.

These seem low-tech now, but they revolutionised how viewers experienced Wimbledon at the time. So what’s new for this year?

ibm wimbledon sports tech

Source: IBM

My dear Watson

First introduced in 2015, IBM’s artificial intelligence, Watson, has been providing even more advanced features this year.

Creating a highlights reel at the end of a match can take up to 45 minutes for a human worker. But for Watson, it’ll only take 30.

By consuming data and listening to the crowd noise for the match, Watson can find the most exciting and important moments to put together as a highlights package. Trained on business rules, visual and audial cues, Watson can pick out the moments the crowd went wild, each match point, player’s emotions and more.

With live video on six courts, highlights packages was once a huge undertaking, consuming time and man-power. But now viewers from home can watch the highlights reels faster ever than before.

Game, Stats, Match

wimbledon tech slam tracker

Source: Wimbledon

Everyone who loves tennis loves the stats. Who’s making the most errors? Who’s scoring better after the first serve? Who’s running further, or serving faster?

Slamtracker is a new system that displays this data in a visual way – giving fans extra insight into the game.

It’s combined with Keys to the Match, predictive analytics technology that, using data from over 8 years of Grand Slam tennis, has figured out the patterns and style of certain players.

From this, it can confidently predict what ‘keys’ certain players need to hit to defeat their opponent – for example, forcing the opponent to run a certain distance between each set or winning 28% of first serve return points.

The way it’s put together makes for an engaging and exciting viewing experience, helping viewers at home to understand the complexities of the game and tactics.

Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital for AELTC, told Bloomberg that Wimbledon is trying to “move beyond data and statistics actually into stories and this idea of making it more applicable, approachable to more people.”

At the grounds

For those lucky enough to be watching at the grounds, the technology is far more subtle.

Fans can chat to virtual assistant ‘Fred’ on their iPhone app. A chatbot powered by Watson, Fred (named after the great Fred Perry), has been helping visitors towards the nearest strawberry stand and telling them who’s playing on centre court.

Because Fred can process natural language, as if you’re asking a human, the feature gives a more personalised feel to the Wimbledon experience and helps fans get the most out of their visit.

ibm wimbledon AR

Source: IBM

Augmented reality has also been enhancing certain matches. Those watching the practice matches can simply point their phone at a player and gain insight into their past performances and why they might be one to watch.

This use of interactive and smart technology can only help Wimbledon appeal to the next generation, and enhance the experience for pre-existing fans.

While sadly Andy Murray won’t be on the centre court this weekend, Slamtracker will hopefully make the tennis just as exciting.

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