Big Blue uses A.I. to hone video highlights and identify key stats.
11 Jul, 2019FORTUNE.COM
Simona Halep’s Wimbledon dreams were in trouble.
On Tuesday, the Romanian player, currently ranked seventh in the world, was struggling in her quarter final match against the Shuai Zhang, a Chinese player ranked 50th.
Zhang, who had bested Halep in two of their three previous meetings, was up four games to one in the first set. It didn’t look good for Halep.
But then, Halep won a drawn-out baseline duel and began battling back. She pulled even with Zhang at four games apiece. From there, she began to dictate the tone of the match, going on to triumph over Zhang in straight sets, 7-6, 6-1.
It was dramatic tennis. But the result might have looked more predictable to those monitoring the game on Wimbledon’s official mobile app or website. There, fans can check out a feature called “Keys to the Match,” which is produced by tech giant IBM using machine learning and troves of tennis data. For each player, it lists three metrics that, statistically speaking, the athlete should achieve in order to be likeliest to win the match.
For Halep, these included winning at least 39% of her first serve return points, winning at least 59% of her points on first serve, and—a bit of an odd one—having a second serve kick height of at least 1.4 meters. In the first five games of the match, Halep had failed to hit any of these targets. But by the time she pulled even, she was over the 59% first serve win threshold, and at the end of the first set, was achieving both points-based metrics. According to IBM’s number crunching, this gave her a greater than 80% chance of winning the match.
It was a small example of the extent to which Wimbledon has become a proving ground not just for tennis top stars, but for IBM’s tech too. Big Blue has been the official technology partner for the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), Wimbledon’s host, for the past 30 years. And every year, the company uses the event to showcase some bit of techno-wizardry it also hopes to sell to the world’s biggest corporations....
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