I worked at Wimbledon

Since Rowan Isaaks took to the local courts as a small child, tennis has been a big part of his life. This year, he spent the Wimbledon fortnight watching and logging matches between the best players in the world at The All England Club.

I started playing tennis when I was about four or five years old. At first I played with my mum in the park but I quickly started training at local clubs and by the time I was eight I was entering tournaments.

From there I got into performance tennis. Early on, I had a goal of playing national and international tournaments and somehow I ended up progressing through the different stages until I did just that.

I played in my first European tournament when I was 11 and carried on travelling and playing on the junior circuit throughout my teenage years. I'm currently in America playing in the university tennis system and studying for my degree at the same time.

Wimbledon calling...

During the spring semester, I heard from a friend at university that IBM was recruiting people to collect data and enter statistics for The Championships at Wimbledon.

Working at Wimbledon is a great opportunity and as I have a good background knowledge of tennis, I thought data collection would be a job I could do well.

I was also drawn to the job as I thought it would be a good chance to watch a lot of high-level tennis and understand a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes at a Grand Slam.

The job spec included a list of tennis-based requirements to do with your playing ability and involvement with tennis. I sent my application off and a few weeks later I was interviewed for the job on Skype, as I was still in America.

Instead of the questions you'd normally be asked in an interview, they wanted to know all about my knowledge of tennis. That was the most important thing - they need people who are as experienced and comfortable with tennis as possible so you can make quick decisions when you're working under pressure.

Getting set for The Championships

Some weeks later, IBM got back to me to say I'd got into the training programme. If I passed the two training days, I'd be on the team of data collectors.

I got through the training, which was pretty intense as there's a lot to learn, and then there was a dress rehearsal the day before the tournament started. Everyone who was going to be working at the tournament was there. It was a good chance to meet the other people who were going to be doing the same job and when I arrived, I realised I knew most of them. There were a few new faces but most of us had seen each other playing over the years and had good relationships from when we were younger.

It wasn't just us data collectors. There were people in a lot of different roles, from security to graphics, who all help to put together what you see on TV.

The tournament involves so much preparation and work goes on all year round. There are always people working at the All England Club, too, as they run tours throughout the year so it's always busy.

A peek behind the scenes

As part of the dress rehearsal day, we got a tour of the grounds and saw lots of the players preparing for the tournament.

They were all very relaxed. I think that's more the case at Wimbledon than at the other Grand Slams where people are allowed in the grounds before the tournament starts, so there are a lot of tennis fans walking around taking pictures and trying to talk to players. At Wimbledon there's restricted access so that doesn't really happen.

We got to see all the top players practising, warming up. We saw pretty much all of the men's top 10 - Djokovic, Federer, Murray, Nadal, Ferrer and others. A couple of them were playing matches with each other and everyone seemed pretty chilled out.

All the coaches were there too, just chatting. Obviously everyone's a competitor but it's nice to see what goes on at this level of tournament. It's actually very similar to how a lower-level tournament operates.

Players aren't allowed on the show courts before the start of the tournament so they were all playing on outside courts. Access to those is restricted as well: only the higher seeds and international stars get to practise on the match courts - the others have to play on the practice courts.

I'd met some of the players before. I met Andy Murray at the National Tennis Centre in London once or twice as he was around when I was playing there a bit. I also met Jo-Wilfred Tsonga there when he came to make a commercial and I saw Rafael Nadal at Queen's Club (which is now the Aegon Championships) when I was a lot younger, but I didn't really talk to him much.

A typical day

Once the tournament started we'd normally meet up at about 10:15 or 10:30 each day. The outside courts typically started play at about 12:00, depending on the schedule. The show courts, where I was working, typically started at 13:30 but we had to be there early to set up.

We'd have a team meeting and discuss various technical things about how the stats had gone the previous day and any comments people had on how we were performing.

Then we'd be given our rotas and find out what courts we were working on that day. The group on the show courts team rotated among a small selection of courts, so I got to work on either Centre Court or No 1 Court almost every day, which was nice.

Most of us would head off to our courts at around 11, apart from the people that were scheduled for a rest. Before the matches started we had to set up our equipment in the boxes where we'd be working. Each team of three had two laptops. One was the primary master computer where we'd enter the raw data. The second laptop operated things like the speed gun to record the service speed, and was also the laptop where the rally count was entered, along with a few other things.

Tennis highlights

We needed to have a good view of all the courts when we were working. On Centre Court and No 1 Court, which are the main stadium courts, our box was up in the stands. We were near the top of the stands, looking down from the back of the court, slightly off to the side.

On the other show courts, we worked from a box above the stands. If you go to Wimbledon, you'll see the glass boxes next to the commentary boxes and that's where we operated from. The boxes are very nice - they're not big but they are comfortable and air-conditioned: just what you need to do the job.

In some ways, working from the boxes is like being in the stands. Because you're concentrating, you don't always see all the points as a fan, though - you see them mechanically as they happen, but you still get a good sense of the atmosphere when you're there.

Being lucky enough to work on the show courts, I saw a lot of the big matches of the year. I managed to see Nadal play Kyrgios, which was cool. I also saw a lot of Federer's matches and a couple of Murray's and Djokovic's. I remember seeing two good Bouchard matches and I saw Lisicki play as well. Because of the way the rota works, you tend to see pretty much everybody during the two weeks.

All the players are given DVDs and electronic copies of all their stats from their matches. I don't think they're available to the public, though, apart from the ones that get published or transmitted.

Getting the match facts straight

Collecting data on show-court matches involved working in teams of three to take down information about the match.

This includes the serve and return - the direction of the serve, the outcome of the serve and any movement or shot that's made by the other player. The number of shots in the point is counted - called the rally count. And then you record how the point finished, which is the type of shot hit, where it was hit from, what the result of the shot was, what the other player was doing at the same time and where they were.

The first team member is called a data-entry person. They work on the main computer, entering all the information except for anything that's being done by the second team member.

The second team member is on the secondary computer. They operate the speed gun, do the rally count and input some data on the serve as well.

The third team member is responsible for tennis verbals, which basically involves watching the match and calling out what's happening. They also make the decisions on anything like unforced errors and forced errors - deciding what those will be marked down as - and watch for anything that might happen during the match that needs to be noted.

When all that information is put into the system, there's an algorithm on the computer that transfers the raw data and puts it into stats. It's then transmitted over to the BBC.

Our team of three moved around together during the day, and everyone switched roles each day. Because you're rotating around three different roles, the first day you do each role can be a bit nervy because you haven't done it in a live situation before. If you're concentrating you're unlikely to mess up but if you do it's a problem!

When things go wrong

Collecting data is not a science: it's people making decisions, not a computer recording stuff, and therefore occasionally things can go wrong.

Minor problems, like entering a stat wrong, aren't a major concern because someone can go back and change it. Obviously everyone wants to avoid mistakes because the stats are going out live on TV so you don't want them to be wrong at any point, but it is possible to go back and edit them.

The one thing you can't get wrong is the score. The scoreboards and the BBC website and the Wimbledon website all operate from our scores. So if our score was wrong, there would be a problem! If it happened, they would need to go back to the umpire's score and use that.

The main thing that can cause a team to mess up is not entering the data fast enough. There's a lot of data to put in and it relies on quick decisions from whoever's calling what's happening. If that person hesitates, you can fall behind, which can cause problems because if you fail to get the data for one point it's not recoverable, whereas if you put it in wrong at least you can go back and change it.

Because mistakes can happen, there are various backup solutions. On the main courts there's a person in the basement shadowing the teams so we can always switch to their computer system if things go wrong. We can also go to pen and paper if it comes to it, but that doesn't happen very often.

Apart from human error, there's always the possibility of mechanical or electrical failures, but this only happened once during the two weeks of the tournament. Apart from that, nothing really goes wrong on the show courts.

A great experience

The Championships make for a very interesting work environment. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work somewhere exceptional. I loved the atmosphere and it was good to see people enjoying themselves.

Wimbledon is very well run and it was great to be part of such a big event. Just being around the staff areas and walking through the tunnels and seeing all these people working was an incredible experience. It's a special place to be and as a tennis player I appreciate that. If I'm around and if I'm asked, I'd love to do it again.


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goldenfool
What a great job! I love

What a great job! I love Wimbledon and it's so interesting to hear a bit about what goes on backstage.

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