How is IBM Smarter Computing relevant to professional tennis players?


I started my working life as a professional tennis player, where information on my form and, probably more important, my opponent’s form were part and parcel of my match preparation. The techniques I used to gain such valuable information included:

  • Assessing my strengths – based on my style of play, the location of the match, the weather, the court surface and how my body felt.
  • Assessing my opponent’s game – based on my memory of playing her previously, her recent results, knowledge of certain playing styles she struggled to compete against, talking to other players and coaches about her style and watching her matches. If I was not able to gain any of this information, my last resort was to assess her game during the five minute warm-up.
  • Having a match plan – a tactical approach to the match based on the information I had gathered. I used the predetermined information to form the approach I was planning on undertaking during my match (and always having a plan B as well!).

This approach helped me achieve a relatively successful three-year professional career, including three $10,000 singles and four $10,000 doubles tournament victories, runner-up in $25,000 singles and doubles tournaments along with several semifinal appearances in $10,000 and $25,000 tournaments. I qualified for the 1992 Olympic Games in doubles and played in the qualifying tournament for Wimbledon in both singles and doubles. My highest rankings were 259 in singles and 309 in doubles.

Siobhan NicholsonRoll the clock forward 20 years and consider how things have now improved in relation to providing valuable information to enable tennis players to just focus on hitting the ball.

By using IBM Smarter Computing, especially with regard to being data ready, IBM at Wimbledon now provides insights and valuable information for tennis players and coaches so they can achieve an even more professional approach to their career than previously possible.

A real-life example of this is IBM’s SlamTracker, which I discuss in this video. SlamTracker uses IBM predictive analytics technology (known as SPSS) to predict what a player needs to do in order to improve their chances of winning their match. Prior to every match, eight years’ worth of Grand Slam data is analyzed (approximately 41 million data points) to find patterns or trends in a player’s game against their particular opponent (or a player with similar style if the players have not competed against each other previously). The resulting output gives three performance indicators (keys to the match) that, if delivered during the match, dramatically increase the likelihood of the player winning the match. During the match, SlamTracker provides visual representation of what is happening point by point, including any momentum shift relating to the three keys. SlamTracker effectively collates the pre-match analytics with the real-time point by point match statistics to determine real-time predictive analytics on a player’s chances of winning their match.

Example keys to the match include:

  • Keeping first serve percentage less than or more than x percent
  • Winning fewer than or more than x percent of points by opponent-forced error

This analysis is only available to players and coaches just prior to, during and after each match, but imagine how powerful this information would be to a player and coach the day before or the morning of their match as input to their match tactics. A player would not only know what they had to do but also what to stop their opponent from doing in order to increase their chances of winning the match. This would enable a player to have informed strategy decisions based on previously captured and analyzed data, which is such a powerful tool for a coach and player both during the tournament and as an aid for areas to work on after the tournament.

IBM Slamtracker

This is all fantastic, but how is this relevant to my clients? Sports can prove to be a powerful metaphor for business. In the consumer products industry, the ability to make informed decisions based on pre-captured analyzed data about a client’s business could prove to be very powerful. Being able to predict what sequence of events is required to maximize a client’s chance of increased revenue and market share is also extremely applicable.

For example, a UK consumer products drinks company’s valuable insights could be based on a sequence of events as follows: if the temperature is greater than 22˚C (71.6˚F), plus a shop stocking their product(s) is within 500 m of a park, plus a shop stocking their product(s) is near a university, the resulting impact equates to a maximum of 26 percent increase in sales. Show me a customer that would not be interested in this kind of data! So my question to my clients now is, “Why wouldn’t you be interested in analytics that can help you make more informed and therefore better business decisions?”

Take a look for yourself at IBM SlamTracker in action during Wimbledon this summer (24 June to 7 July 2013) and, for further insight into technology solutions from IBM at Wimbledon directly from the IBM Wimbledon team, see Wimbledon Insights.

Siobhan Nicholson currently works as a Client Technical Advisor for Consumer Product accounts within the UK. This includes building an understanding of client environments, identifying technical challenges, and leveraging IBM’s technical resources for the benefit of clients. You can find Siobhan on Twitter @SUN_gator and LinkedIn.

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Smarter Computing Analyst Paper - HurwitzTo effectively compete in today’s changing world, it is essential that companies leverage innovative technology to differentiate from competitors. Learn how you can do that and more in the Smarter Computing Analyst Paper from Hurwitz and Associates.

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