The High Tech of the U.S. Open

There are four Grand Slam tennis tournaments played throughout the year, starting seaside in Australia, moving on to the red clay of France and to the strawberries and cream culture of the All England Club's Wimbledon, before ending in a two week battle in the concrete jungle of New York City.

Watching the promotional commercials for Tennis' 2007 U.S. Open, you might think you landed on MTV, with attractive, fit young men and women in tailored outfits, each pumping one fist in time to the latest popular dance club song while holding a racket in the other hand.

This is not an accident. The U.S. Open hopes to use its high profile two-week tournament to create future fans and players of the game. And high technology is at the forefront of its plans.

The U.S. Open is the largest annually attended sporting event in the world, hosting more than 660,000 tennis fans over a two-week period each year around Labor Day and ending this Sunday.

It All Starts in the Palm

For a game that hasn't changed much since it was invented in 1873, tennis is starting to become rather high-tech. Gone are the days of player tirades over blown calls, thanks to an electronic replay system that allows players a limited number of challenges.

And for scheduling, players each call into a restricted telephone bank where by entering their pin code they are told the day and time of their next match. The call is documented on a screen of the head referee's computer and is one of the features developed as part of the 16-year relationship between IBM and the U.S. Open.

"Every year throughout our 16-year partnership, IBM and the USTA have developed innovative ways to help make the U.S. Open the special event it has become," said Rick Singer, director of worldwide sponsorship marketing for IBM. "Delivering a reliable, robust IT solution allows the USTA to concentrate on building value for the U.S. Open brand around the world, meet revenue objectives and promote tennis in the United States."

A high-tech infrastructure is what makes all this instant data available. About 100 yards down the hall from the plush-carpeted player's lounge, where Maria Sharapova, the 20-year-old Russian champion could be found recently psyching herself up for a match by listening to her iPod, and where other players relaxed playing Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3 video games, sat a nondescript high-tech data center that would rival that of any Fortune 500 company.

An IBM engineer designed a device for each court's umpire, using off-the-shelf parts and running on a version of the Palm OS. (The same devices scan visitors' tickets as they enter the stadium each day, making counterfeiting nearly impossible.).

Each chair umpire is provided with a unit at the start of a match. As play begins, the umpire enters the results of each point. That data is instantly transmitted to the giant stadium scoreboards and remote screens in the food areas, compiled into databases for media access, automatically created into TV graphics, and presented live on USOpen.org.

Jeffrey Volk, the director of advanced media for the United States Tennis Association -- the ultimate webmaster of USOpen.org -- said the formula is simple.

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