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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The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.