A general view of Jennifer Brady of the United States in action against Clara Tauson of Denmark in the first round of the singles competition on Court Simonne Mathieu during the French Open Tennis Tournament at Roland Garros on September 29th 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
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The French Tennis Federation (FFT) has outlined its ambition to be a leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based fan and player experiences at this year’s French Open at Roland Garros, hoping more intelligent digital services will help compensate for the lack of spectators.
This year’s tournament was supposed to take place in early summer but was postponed until this week due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It had been hoped that up to 10,000 fans would be allowed through the gates, but tightened restrictions mean just 1,000 people will set foot on the ground.
Limited capacity means that even the most seasoned of tennis fans will have to watch the action unfold on television, online or on their mobile. In this year, of all years, there will be additional expectations on the digital Roland Garros experience.
Roland Garros 2020
Organizers, just like their counterparts at the other three Grand Slams, are at least prepared. There is a recognition that the fixed locations of tennis’s most important events combined with limited numbers of tickets mean most fans will never physically attend.
The ambition for each tournament’s digital experience is the next best thing to being there and there is increasingly a belief that having the best technology contributes to each Grand Slam’s claim to be the most prestigious in the sport.
Last year Roland Garros enlisted the support of technology firm Infosys to boost its digital efforts and fan engagement, introducing analytics-based features and Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) applications that made fans feel like they were standing on Court Phillippe-Chatrier (Roland Garros’s equivalent of Center Court).
For the 2020 tournament, Infosys has redesigned the official Match Centre to include AI-generated insights that make it easier to understand the action. Fans can access everything from a point-by-point record to an in-depth rally analysis that explains how an individual player's tactics have changed during a match.
Meanwhile, FFT's digital teams have access to AI-assisted journalism tools that create intelligent narratives that can be used to create content. Machine Learning algorithms assess multiple managers simultaneously, analyze various data sets, and create natural language reports that can be easily embedded onto various platforms. This tool also automatically generates graphics for use in editorial and on social media.
AI is also used to automate the creation of video highlights. Algorithms can detect the most important and dramatic points by looking at match data and using video and audio recognition technologies to detect player emotion and noise within minutes of a match being completed.
The final major AI innovation for 2020 actually benefits the players. Developed in collaboration with the FFT's players and coaching department, an AI coaching application offers players sophisticated stroke analysis, video replays and assessment almost instantly after a match is completed. Combined with rapid video editing, coaches can share data-driven match summaries and insights with players off the court.
Roland Garros 2020 won't be like other years. It's a bit colder, a bit grayer and a bit emptier than other years. But it's still the world's greatest clay-court tennis tournament and the tennis world's eyes will be glued to Paris for the next fortnight.