Case Studies

AI and data analytics tech served up at Wimbledon

From IBM Watson-generated highlights to cloud computing, the Championships are a grand slam of tech innovation

Rafa Nadal

On the 1 July, the Wimbledon Championship will start off a fortnight of grand slam tennis at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), one of the world's most traditional sporting events. But the competition isn't strictly all heritage and old fashion values, it's also one of the most technologically advanced sporting spectacles around.

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In its 49th year, the Championship is using more artificial intelligence technology than ever before to capture the best bits. Powered by sophisticated cloud computing, the tournament now has a raft of data-powered and AI services for organisers, fans and even players to use. From automated highlights packages to performance analytics, Wimbledon is a hive of cutting-edge technology.

Data Points

For 30-years, IBM has been in partnership with Wimbledon and since 1990 the tech giant has collected 62.8 million data points from the championships. There are 18 courts at the AELTC, each with an average of four matches per day (weather permitting) and scanning through this mass data would take many humans far longer than the two weeks of the competition. Instead, IBM's cloud platform runs in the background, capturing the data and spinning it into everything from player insights to fan based applications.

"It's about trying to uncover those stories," said Sam Sneddon, IBM's client executive. "It's about trying to help fans, in the moment, when they're consuming sport, to really know what it takes. Which are the most exciting moments, what are they thinking, and being able to provide those insights to fans wherever they're watching it.

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AI-powered returns

While Roger Federer may be the most successful Wimbledon player of all time, IBM's Watson AI is the most efficient. Launched last year, the AI-powered service uses cameras and sensors to track the play and create an automated highlights reel. Each bit of action is monitored and ranked via its statistical importance within the match and how much of a cheer it receives from the crowd; even the sound of racket on the ball is measured. At the end of each match, Watson then creates a highlights package within two minutes.

For this year's competition, players can expect to have their celebratory body language and gestures examined by Watson, which will use visual image recognition technology to capture their reactions in order to add these to the automated highlights reel. Watson can pick up anything from a fist pump to a celebratory roar, which will prompt the machine to automatically clip that point in the match.

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"This allows us to clip the highlights package to be really tight, so it knows exactly when play is happening," Seddon told the Telegraph. "We asked ourselves how do we create video content that's available really quickly? What are the most exciting moments in a match? You can sit there as a digital editor in a match and make that decision yourself, or you can turn that question over to an AI system.

"Then we had to define what exciting is - well, let's listen to how excited the crowd are, let's look how animated the players are, let's analyse the data and see whether this is a turning point in the match and use of that to generate highlights."

Player-coach data sets

All these data points are not just for the TV, however, as IBM also provides data analytics to players and coaches to help them read insights into their performance. After each match, personal analysis is available within 20 minutes of it finishing.

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All this data is monitored by 48 IBM recruited and trained tennis experts, who capture match statistics at courtside and report back in sub-second response times. IBM says that using tennis players trained on its systems to capture data ensures they read the game faster and can provide data more accurately.

Former champion Andy Murray is set to make a comeback in the doubles, following a serious hip injury and thanks to similar tech provide by Catapult, Murray has been analysing the previous form and comparing it his post-operation technique. Jozef Baker, a product specialist at Catapult, has worked closely with Murray and his strength and conditioning coach Matt Little since 2017.

"The credit for his return to play belongs entirely with Andy and his team, but we look to provide the best tools and hardware and software for Matt to make the best decisions for Andy and his health," he told Forbes.

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"We have been able to use the technology to identify tennis strokes so we have utilised some of that work and we have detected serves from historical data on Andy. We have managed to compare that to what he is doing at the moment during his recovery and from there we took conclusions from a pre-injury Murray and compared them to help Matt in building that workload."

As such, Wimbledon may be the key event in the tennis calendar, but it also stands as a quiet showcase of some of the most cutting-edge AI and data analysis technology currently available, demonstrating that if the tech can stand up in a high-speed, intense environment, it's poised reap rewards for the businesses that adopt it. 

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