The Wimbledon logo on a water feature at the All England Club Photo: AFP / Glyn KIRK

For the first time in its history, the 2023 Wimbledon Championships will feature commentary that is generated by Artificial Intelligence. The initiative is part of a partnership between the event's organisers and tech giants IBM.

Wimbledon kicks off on July 3, 2023 and will run for the customary two-week period until July 16. Fans can watch the matches live at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, while others can follow the action on the official Wimbledon website and mobile app, both of which are also being powered by IBM.

Are human commentators obsolete?

Despite all the hype surrounding the use of Artificial Intelligence to enhance the Wimbledon experience, its still has its limitations. This year, IBM will experiment by introducing AI-generated captions and audio in their three-minute video highlight reels which will be accessible via the website and app.

Interestingly, the AI commentary can be generated using the familiar voices of top commentators such as former champion John McEnroe. This feature will only be available if consent is given and a deal is struck between the person and the organisers. For now, IBM has confirmed that they are only using an AI generated voice that is not drawn from or inspired by an actual living person.

For those who are wondering if the technology will eliminate the need for human presenters and commentators, it seems as though that won't be happening for the time being. The AI generated content will be used to enhance the coverage on the Wimbledon website and app, but it will be entirely separate from the traditional TV coverage by networks such as the BBC.

The BBC has confirmed that they will continue using an "all-human" team to present the live coverage.

How much AI generated content will be available?

IBM will be using its watsonx AI platform, which the company claims has been trained to learn specific jargon associated with tennis. The tech company has collaborated with the All England Club in its efforts to "teach" the AI platform as much as possible to prepare it for the event.

The AI will be generating a player power index, as well as an analysis of the draw, which could be used to predict a player's possible path to the final.

In a statement, IBM said, "This new insight will 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."

The analysis of statistics such as tracking data for the ball, tracking data for the players and the type of shots the players make, will also be used by IBM to provide an in depth analysis of the games and turn it into "natural language" commentary in almost real-time.

Needless to say, the initiative is a step towards the possibility of providing AI commentary for full-length matches in the future. The short-format highlight reels will become a testing ground for the feasibility of expanding the project.

Kevin Farrar, Head of IBM's Sports Partnerships, told Sun Sport that "the commentary is being generated from the stats, forehand, backhand, etc. We had tennis specialists on the team, so we drew on them in terms of the language it will use. It's not based on an individual and their style."

Farrar said that this is only just a "step" in the AI journey for tennis, and the commentary will be expected to later be trained to have particular styles, languages and a variety of voices.

However, he admits that the technology can only complement what human commentators can contribute. "You can't replace John McEnroe doing commentary, that human element always needs to be there," he said, making it clear that jobs are not particularly in danger at the moment.

He said that the AI commentary could be useful for aspects of the tournament that are currently under utilised. For example, the seniors, juniors and wheelchair matches are not being covered widely and there is no commentary available.

"So for all instances it's about complimenting the human element rather than replacing."

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray poses with the winner's trophy next to runner-up Novak Djokovic after winning the 2013 Wimbledon title AFP / GLYN KIRK