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Wimbledon: Tech behind world's most prestigious tennis tournament

We tour the bunkers beneath the grass courts of Wimbledon to find out how and why every single swing and miss of the tournament is recorded.

Andrew Lanxon
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Andrew Lanxon
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1 of 57 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

WHAM!

Wimbledon is in full flow here in London, with the cream of the world's tennis talent battling it out for the £1.76 million ($3 million, AU$3.2 million) top prizes.

Fat cheques aside, the tournament is a rich set of figures: 38,500 people can fit in the Wimbledon grounds at any one time, and throughout the tournament 300,000 cups of tea, 28,000kg of strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream are served.

Tech is integral to the tournament's smooth running. A finely tuned infrastructure, manned by tennis professionals and programmers, lurks below the surface, logging every single racket swing, ball bounce and footfall.

I caught up with IBM in the bunkers beneath the hallowed green turf to find out more.

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Far from the strawberries and cream, beer and excitement, Wimbledon's technology is controlled underground in "The Bunker".

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Across multiple rooms below the courts, a large team of people is busy inputting every single bit of data generated during the matches.

It's not just the games' scores that matter -- every single aspect of every match is observed and inputted into a vast database.

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Why? Well, that data is being constantly pushed out, not only to the scoreboards on-site, but to Wimbledon's website, its app and to every news outlet and TV station covering the event. This ensures they have the latest facts and figures when presenting live on camera.

This board of information, for example, will be in front of the BBC's presenters, allowing them to give informed analysis on the matches to viewers and radio listeners here in the UK.

378 million TV viewers across 198 countries will tune in to Wimbledon, so it's vital that all stats are spot-on.

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The grass courts may seem as simple and idyllic as they were when Wimbledon began in 1877, but a huge amount of information from every single point is constantly being logged.

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A large part of the data input is done by skilled tennis players. Although anyone can learn the rules of the game, IBM relies on these players to accurately and quickly identify faults and winners, and how they happened.

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Only the iconic Centre Court, where the finals are held, is under a roof, installed in 2009. The rest, like this one, are at the mercy of the elements.

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It's IBM's job to feed the data it's captured to the BBC's on-screen graphics. It also provides a "clean" feed for broadcasters, such as ESPN in the US, who use their own graphics.

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The data-munching tennis players are often called upon to sit alongside TV producers in the nearby transmission lorries. They check facts and provide analysis for the presenters to use.

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The data captured allows for stats like this to be presented on-screen for viewers, and later used by the players themselves to see how they played.

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The players are also given copies of all their stats, helping them see exactly which shots worked, and where they went wrong.

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The hundreds of laptops used in the bunker were mainly ThinkPads, formerly an IBM brand but now owned by Lenovo.

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There are multiple people monitoring each match. If one observer is unsure about a call, others are on-hand to give a second or third opinion.

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All the data is pushed in real time to the Wimbledon app, available on AndroidiPhone and iPad.

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The "Social Command Centre" may sound terrifyingly dystopian, but it's a handy on-screen display that tells the team the gender, locations and various other things about the people who are tweeting about Wimbledon.

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This display shows exactly where on the planet people are tweeting about Wimbledon. Antarctica seems pretty indifferent to the whole thing.

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These are all the trending topics on social sites related to Wimbledon. Note the absence of #Beliebers and #Team1D. It's a better world.

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And here are the most talked about players on the day I visited.

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187 tweets per minute -- can you beat that?

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Make sure you do proper leg stretches before attempting anything like this. Loose-fitting shorts will also avoid embarrassing tearing. US hopeful Noah Rubin shows how it's done.

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This board, named "Keys to the match" gives insight into what each player needs to do in order to progress to the next round. This information is passed on to broadcasters who can use it to give analysis on-air.

It uses 41 million bits of data from previous games to attempt to accurately predict the outcomes of each match if the players hit these goals.

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These displays show in real time the traffic demands and capacity of the servers IBM uses for Wimbledon.

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It looks at who's playing to try and determine the likely demand -- presumably, the singles finals will result in higher traffic than when rain stops play for a youth match in the opening days.

There are three data centres being used, and capacity can be added within 3 minutes if needed.

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It also actively monitors suspicious activity and suspected cyberattacks. IBM says the website receives thousands of attacks a day.

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A non-tech fact for you: over 40 miles of racket string is used in restringing over 2,000 rackets during the two-week tournament.

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When looking at the beautifully kept, occasionally sunny grounds of Wimbledon, spare a thought for the data crunchers, trapped down in this dimly lit basement.

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It's like looking at the Matrix. If you stare for long enough, you don't even see it as code anymore: forehand, backhand, that ball was on the line!

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Along with the 28 tonnes of strawberries, 250,000 bottles of water, 200,000 glasses of Pimms, 135,000 ice creams and 32,000 portions of fish and chips will be served on-site throughout the tournament.

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They'll also sell over-sized tennis balls. Or maybe that's an under-sized child.

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No sporting event is complete without beer.

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All photos taken by official photographers are automatically uploaded to Wimbledon's systems and are edited by professionals in the bunker before being published. I, however, have to edit my own photos.

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Some of the tennis-players-turned-data-inputters are housed up here, as well as in the basement, so they can see exactly what's going on with games that may have fewer cameras in place.

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In a rare moment, blue sky was spotted over South East London. Umbrellas away, folks!

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Tickets to Centre Court cost a fortune, but a cheaper grounds ticket will let you sit on this large grassy hill and watch the big screen. It's known informally these days as Murray Mound, after British tennis ace and current mens' champion Andy Murray.

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Squashing through the crowd with a professional dSLR and photography backpack isn't easy, take it from me.

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In total, there are 19 grass courts, eight clay courts and five indoor courts.

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This one is grass. Obviously.

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A proud moment as an honorary steward oversees a procession of ball boys and ball girls, heading to the courts.

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There are numerous huge scoreboards around the grounds, all of which are updated in real-time from the bunkers.

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Thwack! The speed of shots are monitored by the electronic Hawk Eye system and logged by the data-crunchers back in the bunker.

Pictured here: Britain's Jamie Malik.

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Ominious grey clouds regularly gather over Wimbledon. If the rain starts pouring, play has to be paused.

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All staff on the courts are highly trained both in the rules of the game and in the traditional manners they must display while on duty.

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"Yes, no rain!"

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All-white outfits are compulsory for all players competing in Wimbledon. It's presumably easier to spot grass stains to decide whether they need washing at the end of each day.

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I wouldn't like to be at the top of this enormous crane even in good weather, and particularly not when storm clouds are gathering.

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There are 250 ball boys and girls keeping the tournament running smoothly.

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The best seat in the house.

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The umpires have access to accurate Hawk Eye camera data from tablets on their high podiums.

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It's non-stop excitement court-side.

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With so many people attending, there's an understandably high security presence.

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A hawk, named Rufus, is flown around the grounds every day at 9am in order to deter pigeons from roosting on the courts.

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Of course, broadcast camera operators take up some of the best seats around the courts.

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The march of the umpires. A beautiful sight.

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If you have a grounds ticket, you can wander around looking at all the games going on. Or just sit down with a pint.

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No matter how many times I screamed, "I'm a journalist, let me in to snoop around with my camera," these stewards, seconded from the UK's Armed Forces, wouldn't budge. Spoilsports.

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Police were, unsurprisingly, manning many of the exits.

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And there was a seemingly never-ending line of black cabs waiting for people to leave -- just don't ask them about Uber.

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