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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.