Technology Aids Wimbledon In Quest To Be The Most Prestigious Grand Slam Of All

So in the end there was no fairy-tale ending for Roger Federer at this year’s Wimbledon. The perennial crowd favourite lost an epic final in five sets to Novak Djokovic, having saved championship point in the fourth. Djokovic was as graceful in victory as Federer was in defeat, hoping that he will have one more shot at Wimbledon glory before his illustrious career – arguably the greatest ever – comes to an end.

It was a different kind of final to the one that preceded it, when, on a tension-filled day on Centre Court, Andy Murray ended Britain’s 77 year wait for a British male winner – but not before subjecting us to one last excruciating game before the famous drought was ended.

But walking around the All-England Club (AELTC) last week, it was though nothing had changed from last year. The overpriced Pimm’s and Strawberries and Cream were still served, the queues still formed in Wimbledon Park and Henman Hill, the physical manifestation of the modern British obsession with finding a  homegrown Wimbledon champion, was as busy as ever.

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The Wimbledon Master Plan

But things are different. The crushing tension has been lifted and the latter stages are a bit more pleasant to watch than in previous years, when Murray and Henman’s nerve-shredding adventures left a nation ultimately distraught.

Murray’s exit to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter finals was disappointing, but not devastating. The narrative of the British challenger hoping to end the drought has come to an end (for a few years at least), but Wimbledon will survive without it – just as it always has.

The AELTC has invested heavily to maintain The Championships as the most prestigious of all the Grand Slams, most notably with the retractable roof on Centre Court, brand new No.2 and No.3 courts and increased prize money.

There are plans for the future too. The Wimbledon Master Plan will see prize money increase by 40 percent, the construction of a roof on No.1 court and outside courts that make better use of the topography of the grounds.

Technology is central to this plan. Demand for tickets exceeds supply, meaning the majority of people follow the tournament from home, at work or in the pub. This makes Wimbledon’s digital services and television broadcasts all the more important in maintaining this reputation.

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the importance of digital

BBC has shown the tournament since 1937 and provides pictures to broadcasters around the world. This year it produced 150 hours of TV coverage and offered up to 12 live streams on digital TV, online and on the BBC Sport application. It’s a far cry from even ten years ago, when Freeview was in its infancy and broadband wasn’t widespread.

The AELTC’s 25-year-long partnership with IBM is one of the more substantial sports technology relationships, with the company providing statistics for the BBC and other broadcasters, as well as hosting the official website, building official mobile applications, and monitoring social media.

Statistics are collected for every game by analysers, who tend to be “above county-level standard”. These stats are used for the website, apps and the BBC, who are alerted to interesting information from IBM’s bunker in the broadcast centre.

A new piece of data for this year is an “aggressive shot”. Previously, IBM, which provides services to all four Grand Slam tournaments, could only  distinguish the type of final shot – unforced error, winner, ace, etc. – rather than an in-depth analysis of the rally.

“We’ve looked at the data we collected last year and at the US Open and the Australian Open,” said Sam Seedon, who heads up IBM’s Wimbledon operations and gave Pixel Sport a tour around the tech bunker. “We’ve calculated the parameters and what the algorithm we need is to quantify an aggressive shot.”

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the next best thing to being there

Seedon explains that Wimbledon’s digital strategy is centred around “the next best thing to being there,” a principle that has resulted in SlamTracker. This feature makes use of IBM’s analytics platform to turn all this data into three key performance targets, unique to each player, that if achieved, give them the best chance of winning.

Although mobile applications account for half of all page views of Wimbledon’s digital content, 80 percent of total users go through Wimbledon.com. This means that although IBM is focussing heavily on mobile devices, it needs to continue to develop the website with innovations like SlamTracker to get as many people as possible involved.

This includes the use of social media, which is used both to engage fans and monitor conversations. IBM can see what players and fans are saying, ensuring organisers can fix any problems and maintain the prestige of the tournament.

Another new initiative for this year is Hill versus the World, which asks the fans on Henman Hill and those at home the same question and compares their answers to make armchair fans feel as part of Wimbledon as those with tickets.

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Why no Wi-Fi?

“By helping Wimbledon provide a better experience to fans we help them achieve their mission of being the best tennis tournament in the world,” adds Seddon.

The only real issue with Wimbledon from a technological point of view is that there isn’t any on-site public Wi-Fi at SW19. With so many people visiting , improved wireless connectivity would not only improve capacity, but also save battery life for those using their smartphones to access BBC Sport, the Wimbledon app and, of course, Facebook and Twitter.

The only feasible reason is that the AELTC doesn’t want to encourage fans to use their devices on court, but given many sports venues are using Wi-Fi to ensure fans enjoy their experience as much as possible, it’s unlikely the wait for wireless Internet will be as long as the 77 years it took to find a British male singles champion.

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