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IBM Watson holds court at Wimbledon 2017

The All England Lawn Tennis Club is again playing doubles with IBM at its annual championship, this time with assistance from a virtual Fred Perry

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: The data analytics behind the Wimbledon tennis championships

Summer’s here and Wimbledon is about to begin again with a raft of new digital fan experience elements, including a virtual assistant named after Fred Perry, the last British tennis player before Andy Murray to win the men’s championship.

This year, IBM is contributing a battery of IT to the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s (AELTC) annual championship, much of which turns on uses of its Watson super computer.

The AELTC and IBM have targeted four areas for new activities. These lie in changing fans’ views of the event, using artificial intelligence (AI) to assist visitors to the tournament, AI-automated video highlights, and a “what makes a great tennis player” data analytics system.

The IBM SlamTracker with Cognitive Keys to the Match system is billed as a cross platform application that provides real-time scores, statistics and insights for all the matches in progress. The application has been deployed before and the updated Keys to the Match service is said to be more detailed, including insights such as pace of play, serve placement spread and baseline proximity.

Real-time data will be integrated from sources including courtside statisticians, chair umpires, radar guns, ball position, player location and Twitter for social sentiment.

IBM is also producing insights based on “pressure situations” in a match, such as a particular player being down love-40 in a game and down two sets. These insights will, it is said, show the historical performance for a player when in that specific situation, revealing hidden patterns in player and match dynamics to determine the pressure situations.

For visitors to the tournament grounds, there will be a Watson-enabled bot, Ask Fred. This new mobile app will dish up information about dining options, and features a natural language interface and an interactive map of the venue.

AI-based automated video highlights will, it is said, be generated using IBM Watson and other video and audio technologies to show action from the six main courts.

The AI system created by IBM Research scientists and IBM iX consultants will automatically “curate highlights based on analysis of crowd noise, players’ movements and match data to help simplify the video highlights production process and focus on key moments in the match”.

Read more about IBM at Wimbledon – and Watson

The Wimbledon IBM team has also put together a “What Makes Great” data and analytics system to help fans play the pundit. Sam Seddon, Wimbledon programme executive at IBM, said this is based on “a database on-site built on IBM DB/2 with a reporting layer built on top of that”.

He added: “From a Watson perspective, we use Discovery Services to ingest information, and then we analyse that information with natural language classification. We are also tracking the debate on social media, and putting out points of view to elicit responses.”

The system is being pointed at about 54 million tennis data points captured since 1990, 6,000 or so newspaper print articles from The Telegraph written during the Wimbledon championships since 1995, 22 years of articles, daily blogs and interviews from the websites Wimbledon.com and The Telegraph’s since 1995, and 10 Wimbledon annuals, interview transcripts and social media commentary that total some 11 million words.

Seddon said it surfaces information in six areas to help fans analyse players – their passion, performance under pressure, serve, stamina, how they adapt to their opponent’s game or, contrariwise, impose their own game, and their success in return of serve.

Cognitive computing is the next revolution in sports technology and, working with us, Wimbledon is exposed to the foremost frontier of what technology can do as we work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the brand and the event,” said Seddon. “Cognitive computing is now pervasive from driving the fan experience, to providing efficiency for digital editors, to IT operations.”

Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital at the AELTC, said: “With help from IBM, we are providing new on-site features in the SmartPhone apps, such as the Ask Fred assistant, allowing fans to plan their day at the championships and make the most of their visit. Similarly, we are working with IBM to access additional insights in order for our fans to truly understand and share the moments that matter. This year, a combination of design and data-driven content and insights will provide fans with the unique Wimbledon experience they expect and more.”

At a press event to launch this year’s digital technology programme with IBM, Willis added: “A lot of what we are doing is test bedding and learning for the future.” She said she expects the highlights automation activity to expand beyond the six show courts next year.

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