Who knows me also knows that I love tennis; I’ve been playing this sport for the past 20 years, so naturally, I could not help myself but watch the US Open Tennis Tournament this past month. This tournament has been very different from the ones I saw before; not only did a women’s qualifier win the tournament for the first time in tournament history, but a new type of technology stepped into the court, making (in my opinion) the game even more enjoyable. There were three types of advancements in this tournament that Tennis Fans have never seen before:
IBM Power Rankings with Watson:
The first piece of innovation I want to talk about is IBM Power Rankings with Watson, which are AI-powered daily rankings of player momentum used at the US Open for the first time this year. But what is it, and how different compared to the system that was in use before? The traditional tennis tour ranking system uses 52 weeks of data to understand and quantify player performance, but this year was different. IBM Power Rankings takes this one step further by focusing on a player’s most recent history. The technology uses advanced statistical analysis, Watson Discovery’s NLP capabilities, and the open IBM Cloud to analyze player performance data, mine media commentary, understand player momentum, and highlight its determination of the most compelling matchups. What this means is that earlier, you would look at tournaments and how a player performed over a particular period, but now IBM power rankings can read into more significant data, taking into consideration data coming from other sources that are not easily quantifiable.
Match Insights with Watson:
The second piece of technology is Match Insights with Watson: Watson uses Watson Discovery to create AI-generated fact sheets to help fans understand players and their rankings and quickly get up to speed ahead of every match during the tournament. I am excited about these two features is that IBM has helped fans understand what the data is saying about players ahead of upcoming matches with new features such as “Likelihood to Win,” “Ones to Watch,” and “Upset Alerts.”
US Open Fantasy Tennis:
The third and probably most exciting news is that this year, the US Open launched US Open Fantasy Tennis, including IBM Power Rankings and insights using IBM Watson Discovery. Fantasy Tennis is excellent news for fans as this is the first-ever fantasy experience for this Grand Slam. This new experience is a huge opportunity to engage fans more deeply and create a fantasy team that they can cheer on for the duration of the tournament.
Adding AI to the US Open was a great opportunity for both fans and players to be more connected. A recent IBM survey found that two times more US adults surveyed report watching traditional sports on digital platforms during the pandemic (84%) compared to pre-pandemic (41%), and 60% of US adults surveyed said technologies like AI and cloud computing make sports more engaging to watch for fans. Considering the recent events and the fact that some fans decided to postpone traveling to New York City for the tournament, I believe that engaging tennis fans from all around the globe is the winning decision.
The partnership between IBM and the US Open is not new; in fact, the two have been partnering for the past 30 years. IBM has designed and developed the US Open app and website using a hybrid cloud to handle the vast amount of data coming from the US Open tournament. I am personally a big fan of technological integration into sports. It created a significant opportunity for both Players and Fans to be more connected and receive more accurate data. This point made me investigate how AI is used across other professional sports, and this is what I found:
Cricket: AI can be used to improve the game’s strategy, while Machine Learning can predict match results accurately. Currently, AI is used in the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) and analyzes runouts.
Baseball: AI is currently used to scout and recruit new players. Artificial Intelligence can collect relevant information about players, such as their speed and the angle they hit their bat. This information helps recruiters making the right decisions on incoming players.
Soccer: Currently using technologies like Goal Line Technology (GLT) and Video Assistant Referee (VAR) that have significantly improved the game’s efficiency by providing additional support to referees to make the right decisions.
Basketball: Many NBA teams are currently using AI as well. An example is HomeCourt, an AI app that can help basketball players improve their shooting precision.
The application of AI in sports has become very common in the last couple of years. Considering the positive impact of technology in sports, I believe this is only the beginning of AI and VR into both pro and recreational sports, making the games even more interesting.