While the age-old traditions of Wimbledon may have helped to create its prestige and standing within the game, the All England Club has always maintained a progressive attitude when it comes to implementing the latest technologies to ensure the tournament remains the pinnacle of the game. The famous grass courts, strict all-white dress code, strawberries and cream, and royal box will always be symbolic of the Wimbledon Championships, but it is the willingness to move with the times that keeps the tournament popular with sports fans all over the world.
This year will see the Wimbledon Championships introduce an AI-powered commentary facility to their coverage in 2023; with the All England Club teaming up with IBM to offer AI-generated commentary and captions to the highlights available through their website and the Championship's app.
The coverage will also include AI-powered analysis of singles draws, examining how favourable a player’s path to the final might be.
Specifically, the tournament will make use of IBM’s 'WatsonX' AI platform, said to be trained in the “unique language of tennis”, provided with assistance of the All England Club.
While including AI commentary within highlights of the tournament may be new ground for Wimbledon, The All England Club is already an adopter of AI technology, currently using IBM’s AI technology to provide features such as its player power index, which analyses player performance; further demonstrating the progressive attitude of The All England Club to ensure Wimbledon, and the game as as a whole, utilises cutting edge technology to ensure the sport moves with the times.
It has been stated that the new insights provided by AI will also help tennis fans to uncover anomalies and potential surprises in the singles draw, which would not be apparent by looking only at the players’ ranking. Data, such as tracking data for the ball, tracking data for the players and the type of shots the players make from different parts of the court, is collected from a variety of sources around the court. It is then fed into IBM’s AI platform, where it will be processed by the company’s AI models, before ultimately being fed to a chatbot-style system that produces natural language commentary, specifically fine-tuned in the language of tennis and Wimbledon. That commentary can also be handed on to a second text-to-speech AI to turn it into audio commentary in near-real-time.
This may be the first step towards generating AI commentary on full matches, with current AI models also showing capabilities in cloning the voice of commentators - with The European Broadcasting Union announcing this month that the cloned voice of the commentator Hannah England will be used to provide commentary for the European Athletics Championships. England’s voice will be used to replicate the content of the event’s live blog for commentary on the European Athletics YouTube channel.
This news offers exciting new possibilities for sports fans, with the insights and data offered by such AI commentators potentially being a fanatic's dream; especially if it is in the voice of their favourite pundit. The next step may be to create an AI voice of sports which is free of the notorious commentator's curse; but this may be a bridge too far...