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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Tim Shipman's Diary

The Sunday Times political editor on poker, pasta – and being called fat by Andrew Marr.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was having dinner with my wife at Padella (which serves the best pasta in London) when the phone rang. It was an irate David Davis. “You’re reporting that a friend of mine has said Philip May wants Theresa to quit. It’s not true. I don’t even know Philip May.” I calmly explained that I wasn’t accusing him and I had his friend on tape. “Who was it?” he asked me. I wasn’t saying. “Well, it’s not bloody helpful,” the Brexit Secretary said before hanging up.

The following day, I woke up to watch Philip Hammond explain to the BBC’s Andrew Marr why his cabinet colleagues had leaked me details of how the Chancellor had branded public-sector workers as “overpaid”. “I don’t know who [Tim Shipman’s] sources are,” he said, after inaccurately suggesting that I was being fed information as part of some Brexiteer conspiracy to discredit the cabinet’s leading Remainer.

On Monday, I did an interview with Eddie Mair in the back of a beer garden in Ireland, where I’m playing cricket. In reality, the leaks had much more to do with colleagues irritated at Hammond’s sometimes grating behaviour. Word reaches me that he regards it all as very unhelpful. It seems odd after 16 years in political journalism to have to say this, but we’re not here to be helpful. It might make sense if our politicians gave us less to write about. Over the past three years, they have delighted us enough.

Back for seconds

Voter fatigue is a recognised problem. No one talks about journalist fatigue. We all hope that Theresa May rejuvenates on her Swiss walk (perhaps regenerating into Jodie Whittaker). Thanks to the decision she took when she last went walking, I’m facing the obliteration of another summer holiday writing a second political tome covering the period since my Brexit book, All Out War, up to the general election. What looked at one stage like the boring second album is now a rip-roaring tale of hubris and nemesis. When I asked for title suggestions on Twitter, there were plenty of votes for “Mayhem” and “Mayday”. The most imaginative was: “The Snarling Duds of May”. Sadly, it’s too long for my publisher.

Catching the big fish

The new-found attention from writing books is a double-edged sword. To my delight, then embarrassment, Andrew Marr referred to me twice as “the doyen” of the print lobby. “We keep trying to stop him,” Marr’s editor, the redoubtable Rob Burley, confided at a rival magazine’s summer party. The following week, Marr said: “The biggest fish in the pool, if only physically, is Tim Shipman…” I got a text from a special adviser friend asking: “Are you paying him?” I pointed out that Britain’s best-known political interviewer had just called me a fat bastard live on national television.

New blood

I make my debut on BBC2’s Newsnight alongside Ash Sarkar of Novara Media, one of the new websites that cheerlead for Jeremy Corbyn. She is nerveless and fluent in her mid-twenties, when I was a tongue-tied naif. People who get the Corbyn phenomenon are rightly getting more airtime. Off the air, she tells me that she’s a “libertarian anarchist” and then asks me where I live. “Are you going to smash it up?” I ask nervously. She smiles. Ash’s main concern is to paint the town red in the Saturday-night sense. A Labour MP draws attention to her Twitter biog, which concludes: “Walks like a supermodel. Fucks like a champion. Luxury communism now!” Bravo. I think…

Brexit gamble

I was greatly cheered by the induction in the Poker Hall of Fame of the late Dave “Devil­fish” Ulliott, the player who did the most to create the TV and online poker boom in Britain. Westminster has a few useful card sharps – Paul Stephenson, formerly of Vote Leave, among them – but I don’t know any politicians who play. By contrast, the US presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were all accomplished poker players.

When I worked in the US, I interviewed a member of Barack Obama’s poker circle when he was a state senator in Chicago. The cautious, composed and occasionally bold player he described was the mirror image of the politician we came to know. His Republican rival in 2008, John McCain, preferred the chaotic gambling of the craps table and his erratic campaign reflected that. Too many of the current cabinet seem to be dice men. What we wouldn’t give for Devilfish running the Brexit negotiations.

Blundering through

Anyone who has ever dealt with McCain would have been saddened by the news that he is suffering from brain cancer, but his resilience almost makes you feel sorry for the tumour. McCain is undoubtedly the most media-friendly politician I have ever met. When I travelled on his plane in 2008, he took every question from the foreign press pack and made us feel welcome. Through him, I also met Steve Duprey, the former boss of the New Hampshire Republicans. He was fond of explaining Duprey’s first law: “In politics, before considering malevolence, always assume incompetence.” I have had much cause to remind myself of that over the past three years.

Paranoid android

If you are looking for a summer read, I recommend Jonathan Allen’s and Amie Parnes’s Shattered, a great insider account of Hillary Clinton’s disastrous 2016 presidential election effort. It shows how a flawed candidate with little ability to connect with the public presided over a paranoid regime of advisers engaged in Shakespearean bloodletting that led to them coming a cropper when fighting a charismatic populist. On second thoughts, you could always wait to read my second book this autumn. 

Tim Shipman is the political editor of the Sunday Times. “All Out War” is now available in paperback (William Collins)

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue