IBM and Wimbledon: The tech that takes you closer to the tennis. Brought to you by Wimbledon Insights

The relationship between IBM and the Wimbledon Championships is now entering its 24th year, following IBM’s appointment as the official IT supplier and consultant to the All England Lawn Tennis Club. From an initial service providing scores and statistics to the BBC, IBM’s involvement with Wimbledon has grown to cover a range of tracking, analysis and information services that broadcasters, coaches and players use every day, and that now allow the rest of us to get even closer to the action.

In 1994 IBM unveiled Player Report, a set of innovative services that delivered detailed statistics to players and coaches so that they could analyse their own performance, and that of their opponents. In 1999 courtside serve speed displays used radar information to bring instant information on the speed of every serve. In 2000, the Wimbledon Information System made its debut; an intranet-based, on-site resource for players, press and the public. This contains a wealth of information including the detailed point -by-point statistics captured for every match as well as order of play, results, and player biographies, but also historical data going back to 1877 and the first ever Wimbledon match.

By 2007, IBM was providing Match Analysis DVDs to all singles players on the Centre and No 1 Courts at the conclusion of the match, combining point-by-point video with statistical information that enabled players and coaches to view and analyse the game. Then in 2008, IBM introduced SlamTracker, providing live online scoring for matches in action and allowing fans to track their favourite players’ progress through The Championships. In 2011, IBM trialled SecondSight, a system that tracked the speed and direction of players as they moved around the court. Not only could we map the action, point by point, but with the data rendered in 3D, we could view each match event from a range of different angles.

SlamTracker: Predictive Analytics at Play

These days IBM doesn’t just provide technology to watch and score each match, but technology that can help the fan experience even further with rich insights presented in a visually compelling way. Introduced last year, IBM SlamTracker was enhanced with a “Keys to the match” feature. Using over eight years of Grand Slam tennis data and 41 million data points, IBM is able to find the patterns and styles of play for particular head-to-head matches (or between players of similar styles if the players in question have not met before).

In the run-up to a match, the data for one player is compared to that of his or her opponent, along with players of a similar style to determine the ‘keys to the match’: the three targets that player has to hit if they want to enhance their chance of winning. These keys are selected by analysing 45 potential match dynamics – 19 offensive, 9 defensive, 9 endurance and 8 style – to identify the ones that will be vital to each player in this specific match. Meanwhile, once in the match the players’ actual performance is tracked against a set of key performance indicators, creating values for each player’s ‘momentum’ and mapping the key turning points and what caused them.

SlamTracker runs on the same SPSS Predictive Analytics software IBM uses to help some of the world’s largest businesses work and sell more effectively. In YO! Sushi, for example, predictive analytics enable the company to monitor the effectiveness of customer promotions, and restaurant managers identify best-selling dishes and waste less food. It’s also the same software used in education to spot learners at risk of dropping out, or in public services to identify those young people at most risk of unemployment after they leave school.

This year SlamTracker is back, and you can see it in action HERE. What’s more, you’ll be able to get a detailed look at the predictions before the day’s biggest match with a post-match analysis to follow.

IBM: Bringing Wimbledon closer to You

Throughout its long association with Wimbledon, IBM has also used technology to bring the Championship and tennis fans together in new, exciting ways. In 1995 it launched wimbledon.org, a ground-breaking website that transformed the way sport was presented online. In 1996, this was followed up with SlamCam, an enhancement that allowed visitors to tour the ground virtually, 24/7, through robotic cameras. The introduction of the first version of SlamTracker in 2008 gave fans a detailed view of The Championships they’d never had before, while 2009 bought us the first Wimbledon iPhone app, bringing live match data straight to your smartphone.

Last year saw the redesign of wimbledon.com, featuring live match play in a site that highlighted the beauty of Wimbledon to the world. This year sees the first Wimbledon iPad app. Developed by IBM and launched by the All England Lawn Tennis Club, it features 360-degree and birds-eye ‘fly-in’ video content in a stunning interface, plus other unique content such as time-lapse photography from the Centre Court roof .

Yet bringing the tennis close to the public is a two-way thing. Last year IBM started analysing social sentiment through tweets, charting which players were being mentioned, and which were getting the most positive feedback. IBM’s Content Analytics software uses an index of tweets to look for terms specific to tennis, the players and The Championships to identify trends, and sort tweets by the frequency of adjectives being used. The software then scores each tweet with a value ranging from minus five to plus five, creating a ‘sentiment score’.

Last year IBM harvested tweets from 20th June to 11th July, and analysed over 1.3 million messages from the day of the final alone. That day saw 490,000 tweets mention Andy Murray, with 42 percent favourable. Roger Federer saw 487,000, with 29 percent of those scoring positive. This year, IBM will be tracking Social Sentiment every day of The Championships.

Stuart Andrews

Want to find out more about the Data behind the Championships? Find out more here: wimbledoninsights.com

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit