VR serves and data-enabled coaching are boosting the Wimbledon court this year.
For the past few years it has undergone something of a digital revolution. From artificial intelligence to analysing match footage, to the prospect of watching games in virtual reality, we look at the tech that’s transforming SW19.
For the past 30 years IBM has been Wimbledon’s official tech partner — and this year IBM’s AI tech, named Watson, will be used to create video packages of matches for the Wimbledon app and social platforms. Watson analyses each match for its excitement factor, such as an intense rally or a great reaction from the crowd. It ranks these, brings them together, and creates a highlights video.
“This lets us generate highlights within two minutes of the match completing,” says Alexandra Willis, head of digital for the All-England Club.
Watson’s work doesn’t stop there. IBM’s anti-bias software, Watson Open Scale, will also be on hand to ensure the highlights videos offer a more equal representation of what happens in the tournament. Instead of focusing only on the top players, the AI might pick up a match on Court 17, for instance, which involves a rising star.
Willis also says Wimbledon wants to include more personalisation in its digital platforms, all powered by AI. You can chat to a Wimbledon bot in the app or get updates via Facebook Messenger. This service may in future be accessed by voice, such as through Amazon Alexa, instead of an app.
“There’s a real interest and appetite for voice technology,” says Willis. “We’ll be trialling something in the background around the role that voice can play in helping Wimbledon be more accessible to watch and follow.”
Data is crucial for player performance and Enterprise software corporation SAP has a long-running partnership with the Women’s Tennis Association to use SAP’s analytics software to track players on court. “It’s about identifying the right data for a particular problem,” says Milan Cerny, innovation lead at SAP.
The SAP coaching app takes data collected by the Hawk-Eye cameras during matches and displays it for coaches — such as how an opponent behaves during a break point, or the difference between a first and second serve. Coaches can then analyse this information and relay it to players to help them gain an edge.
Coach Wim Fissette works with former world number one Victoria Azarenka, who returned to the game this year after having a baby. He has been using the SAP platform to improve Azarenka’s target zone shots and says it has helped to give her confidence.
“I call the software my assistant coach because it gives me so much information,” he says. “My coaching is much more accurate now. The only downside is every coach will have access to the stats so we have to keep growing our players so they don’t get predictable.”
You might not have access to SAP’s coaching platform but you can use tech to improve your own game. Jaguar’s new Ace Pace Wimbledon Edition app (Android and iOS) can simulate the strength of a serve using a smartphone instead of a racquet.
Journey Digital, the firm behind the app, created an algorithm combining a phone’s gyroscope to calculate wrist angle, a motion sensor to determine the arc of the serve and an accelerometer to measure a shot’s potential speed. British number one Kyle Edmund has tried it.
Once your ace has been perfected, you can put it to the test against Andy Murray. American Express has created a Fan Experience that lets hopefuls take on Murray in a virtual Centre Court, built for HTC’s Vive VR headset. Using the headset’s motion-sensing tech, fans will be judged on their accuracy and speed when “hitting” the ball in VR, before they get a final rating.
It’ll take a while before you’re watching Centre Court in VR in real time, though. “There’s a lot of talk about it but the physical experience hasn’t got there yet,” says Sam Seddon, IBM Wimbledon client executive. “Maybe in five years we could be having a different conversation.”