How AI is guarding Wimbledon's tennis traditions, and its digital future

Seddon gives an example of Iceland playing in their high profile game against Portugal, and linking it to an Icelandic player playing at Wimbledon, and how you can join those conversations.

Wimbledon site

Of course 'winning' at social media is not the only use for IBM. The company's most visible work at Wimbledon is producing the reams of data that we see ourselves on apps, televisions and that is also being handed to the commentators, broadcasters and the players themselves on a special site that allows them to analyse and watch back each point.

"What we do here - and we've been here since 1990 - is a large, technical data-capture, transformation and distribution project," explains Seddon.

"At the heart of it is capturing information at the side of the court and, to give you a sense of scale, we captured around 3.2million data points last year."

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the sheer scale of this data capture means that it is technology that is doing the recording, but actually IBM's output relies heavily on good old human cognition as well.

"We have a team of highly trained analysts," explains Seddon, "There are technology solutions we can deploy - and in fact Wimbledon have one of their own on the practice courts.

"But when it comes to the speed, the accuracy and understanding the subtleties and nuances between forced and unforced errors it takes a human being, and a very good tennis player at that, to be able to interpret all of that at the speed that we need."

Seddon explains that data, Watson's smart analysis and, of course, the experts, combine to bring us a richer experience of this most traditional of sporting events without ever impacting on the values that have kept it so central to the tennis calendar.

First serves

"The data we capture at the side of the court - like is it 30 love? And was it an ace or not? - is then turned into analysis and statistics like '75% of first serves in'.

"In order to make that interesting information and invaluable to the club and the commentators we have to turn that into insight and that insight is in the context.

"So for Andy Murray you might ask 'when he won in 2013 what was his first serve percentage? What is it now? And how is he performing in this match?' All that information is available not only to the commentators but democratising it so we can get that info out to the fans around the world.



"With apps, and websites that information is becoming increasingly available to anyone from my mum to my 11-year -old daughter. People have a thirst for that information to bring it to life and to make it the best tennis tournament in the world."

And that is at the heart of what the team at Wimbledon are striving for. As Desmond puts it: "the banner of 'in pursuit of greatness' is something we think embodies Wimbledon.

"Everyone is so passionate about the brand that every single year they are looking to raise the bar. We'll never reach perfection but we'll pursue greatness."

Watson may not (yet) truly understand how it is contributing to that process - but IBM's most famous son is certainly now a part of this goal, and although still being aided by a crack team of human experts, the digital future is already pretty well wedded with one of the most traditional past and presents.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.