Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
April, 12th 2016

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noahsyken in

“Only at IBM.” It’s an expression that I often hear at work. And it has referred to many things in many different contexts over the last 105 years; new technology introductions, from the relational database to UPC codes to the personal computer itself; entire fields of scientific study that have been developed here; the championing of equal opportunity rights for employees and the redefining of the modern, international corporation… several times over. We even helped put a man on the moon.

There’s a similar expression I’ve heard a lot this week: “Only at the Masters.” I’m still shaking my head after Jordan Spieth’s epic collapse at the 12th hole of Augusta National Golf Club. It was a riveting conclusion to the tournament. And it’s the kind of thing that only happens on Sunday at the Masters.

I’m emotionally and physically exhausted, flying home from the Augusta National Golf Club. The course has been my home for the last week, where IBM delivered the digital experience of the Masters. Our team has been preparing for this since Jordan Spieth slipped on the Green Jacket last April. And they delivered another masterful digital experience this year, serving up beautiful shots of the course to, updates on every major story line, and tracking every shot of every player for all four rounds. Surely a team this dedicated and skilled could only exist at IBM.

We showcased that technology to many of our friends and business partners during the course of the week. And they were all surprised at how much goes into a global production like this. As a side benefit, I got to watch grown men and women – captains of industry, even – giggle like schoolchildren at the sight of their favorite players, race-walk to place their seat at Amen Corner, and collect stacks of drink cups to bring home as souvenirs. I even saw Ben Crenshaw follow Tom Watson around the course, mingling with the patrons, just so he could soak up every moment of a friend’s last go around.

They do it because like me, they love this game, and they love this place. And like me, they respect the tradition, leadership, and innovation of the Masters. They recognize the critical role IBM plays in bringing this special tournament to life. They appreciate the hard work it takes to make it all go.

I’m proud to be able to bring this event to so many people, both in person and through our digital platforms. It reminds me of all the great things this company has done for over a century. And it reminds me that some things can only be done at, and by, IBM.

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April, 6th 2016

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noahsyken in

Tom Watson has a strange habit. Every year, right around this time, he brings an egg salad sandwich to the 13th tee box at the Masters – the last hole of Augusta National Golf Club’s so-called Amen Corner — and leaves it there.

“That’s the most private place on the golf course and there’s always a delay there because guys are going for the green in two,” he told the Golf Channel last week. “Bruce would always take an egg salad sandwich out there and eat it on that tee while we waited.”

Bruce Edwards was Tom Watson’s caddy for 25 years. In 2003 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. By 2004, Bruce passed away at the age of 49. And ever since then, Watson has carried that egg salad sandwich out to 13, and left it there in tribute.

Last night, I had the pleasure of hosting an event with Tom here in Augusta, Georgia, where IBM is sponsoring the 80th Masters. Tom has kindly agreed to help IBM promote our own Watson, the cognitive system that is ushering in a new era of computing. Here is a link to a great spot he did with us last week.

People have asked me, “Why Tom Watson, why now?” It’s a fair question. This will be Tom’s final Masters tournament, and his Hall of Fame career is obviously winding down. All of which makes him an unlikely candidate for a spokesperson.

It’s true that he shares a name with IBM’s founder, Thomas Watson Sr., and one of our premier offerings, IBM Watson. But those coincidences of nomenclature are more convenient than compelling.

At the event last night, and in the weeks leading up to the Masters, I’ve learned more about Tom; a man with great wisdom, who has witnessed many changes over the years, in the world and to the game he loves. He also understands technology, and in particular how IBM Watson works, and why it’s so different than anything that’s come before it. He shared stories with us about the years when the only data available to a golfer at the Masters was written in pencil on a pad of paper in the clubhouse. Insight was therefore hard to come by.

In our work with him, Tom was really able to put Watson into historical context. And he is legitimately excited about Watson’s potential. He’s excited about how cognitive computing can interpret golf data. He’s excited about IBM’s acquisition of The Weather Company, and how that might affect how we predict and prepare for changes in the weather (Tom is considered one of the greatest all-weather golfers of all time.)

But most of all, he told me about how excited he was about Watson Health, and how a machine that thinks, learns, and reasons might be able to aid the medical research that might one day cure diseases like ALS.

I hope Tom does well this week in the tournament. The cameras and commentators will be watching his every move, celebrating the career of one of the best of all time. But regardless of his performance, it’s sure to be an emotional week. And I’m grateful that IBM could be a part of it.

IBM Watson's Wins Event

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2016 Australian Open – Day 14 Recap
Men’s Singles Final

Novak Djokovic defended his Australian Open title for his 11th career Grand Slam victory. AO_29_DjokovicWins_v1
Top seed Novak Djokovic defeated 2nd seed Andy Murray 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 in 2 hours 53 minutes.

Set 1 – Djokovic 6-1 in 30 minutes.
The first game of the match set the tone for what was to come. Murray had a break point to grab an early lead but Djokovic answered with a punishing baseline game and eventually held serve. He then took advantage of some sloppy play from Murray and broke twice in a row to jump to a 5-0 lead. Murray finally held serve and Djokovic served out the set 6-1. Djokovic played solid tennis (10 winners, 9 unforced errors), while Murray struggled to find a way to hit through Djokovic’s defense. Murray had 5 winners and 11 unforced errors.

Set 2 – Djokovic 7-5 in 80 minutes.
Djokovic kept the pressure on Murray’s serve throughout the 2nd set. Murray saved 4 break points in the third game but feel to Djokovic’s relentless pressure in the 7th game to trail 4-3. Credit to Murray as he broke back to even the set at 4-4. Murray had to saved 2 more break points to hold for 5-4. Djokovic held for 5-5 and in the next game Murray jumped out to a 40-0 lead. Two quick points for Djokovic made it 40-30 and then they played the longest point of the match. 36 shots traded by the two before Murray missed shot 37 on his backhand. That made it deuce and two points later, Djokovic had a winning 6-5 lead.

This set wasn’t pretty, it was gritty. Lots of long rallies that usually ended in Djokovic’s favor. Djokovic hit 8 total winners in the set and made 19 unforced errors. Murray became the aggressor, going for more with mixed results – 21 total winners in the set and 34 unforced errors. They played 30 points that lasted 9 or more shots and Djokovic won 19.

Set 3 – Djokovic 7-6 in 63 minutes.
Murray fell behind immediately at the start of the 3rd set with 3 unforced errors in the opening game to give Djokovic the break. Murray broke Djokovic’s serve for just the second time in the match to even the set at 3-3. There were no more break points in the set as they each held to the tiebreak. Murray opened the tiebreak with his 4th double fault of the match and Djokovic followed with his 6th ace of the match for a 2-0 lead that he never relinquished. Murray added in another double fault to give Djokovic a 4-1 lead and Djokovic ended the match with his 7th ace. Like the 2nd set, Murray made too many unforced errors as he tried to go for a bit more than he could control (14 winners, 20 unforced errors). Djokovic just played solid – 13 winners and 13 unforced errors.

These head to head matches between Djokovic and Murray are almost always decided by who wins the battle of 2nd serves. The challenge for Murray is that Djokovic was the best in the world last year in winning 2nd serve points – when he was serving and when he was returning. This match continued that streak. Djokovic won 53% of his 2nd serve points and 65% when Murray had to hit a 2nd serve.

Add to that Djokovic’s impenetrable defensive game, and that creates huge problems for Murray. Djokovic finished 149 points in the backcourt and won 83 (56%) – Murray finished 129 points at the baseline and won just 47 (36%). Murray did go for bigger shots to try to break through Djokovic’s game but the results were predictable – 40 total winners for Murray but 65 total unforced errors. Djokovic finished the match with 31 total winners and 41 unforced errors.

The challenge for all the top players when facing Djokovic is to break down his defense. You have to go big, sometimes bigger than you’re capable of in order to put pressure on him. The only man to do that in the last year at a major was Stan Wawrinka who played the match of his life in the finals at Roland Garros. Murray doesn’t have that type of firepower so he’s reduced to trying to outlast Djokovic – and that’s almost impossible.

Djokovic held 14 of his 16 service games saving 4 of the 6 break points he faced. He won 74% of his 1st serve points and 53% of his 2nd serve points. Murray held 10 of his 15 service games, facing 12 break points and getting broken 5 times. He won 66% of his 1st serve points and just 35% when he had to hit a 2nd serve. Murray had averaged winning 57% of his 2nd serve points coming into the final, but Djokovic’s return game pressured him throughout the match. Murray’s got a very strong return game as well, but Djokovic’s 2nd serve held up much better facing that pressure. Coming into the final Djokovic also averaged winning 57% of his 2nd serve points and he won 53% against Murray’s strong returns.

It just tougher against Djokovic. Here’s a look at Murray’s performance coming into the final and how he did against Djokovic:

It’s Just Tougher Against Djokovic

Andy Murray 2016 Australian Open Into the Final Final Match
2nd Serve Points Won 57% 35%
Baseline Points Won 52% 36%
Unforced Errors per Match 30 65

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2016 Australian Open – Day 13 Recap
Women’s Singles Final

7th seed Angelique Kerber played an almost flawless match to defeat world number 1 Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in 2 hours 8 minutes.

Set 1 – Kerber 6-4 in 39 minutes.
The first game of the match made it look like Serena would cruise to her 22nd Grand Slam singles title. Four first serves in – four quick points, 1 – 0 for Serena. Kerber held for 1 – 1 and then broke Serena courtesy of 3 unforced errors and just 2 first serves in from Williams. Serena broke to even the set at 3 – 3 and again it looked like she would take control. Another awful service game (2 first serves in play out of 6 points and 3 unforced errors) gave the break right back to Kerber and she served out the set dropping just 1 point in her next 2 service games. Key numbers from the 1st set: 23 to 3 – unforced errors by Williams and Kerber, 2 for 2 – break point conversions by Kerber.

Set 2 – Williams 6-3 in 33 minutes.
After dropping serve twice in the opening set, Williams did not face a break point in the 2nd set. She improved her 1st serve percentage from 55% to 64% and dropped her unforced errors from 23 down to just 5. Kerber did not lose this set (7 unforced errors), Williams won it (16 winners), but this wasn’t the Serena Williams we were used to seeing. She did not dominate the points from the first strike, actually Kerber won more of the short points (22 to 17) and Williams showed her patience by winning every point that lasted 5 shots or more (13 to 0).

Set 3 – Kerber 6-4 in 56 minutes.
This is where Kerber raised her game. Realizing that Williams had decided to pull back from her aggressive first strike strategy, Kerber became more aggressive and came out swinging. 5 winners in the first 9 points and Kerber had a 2 – 0 lead. Williams picked up the pace and evened the set at 2 – 2. But as Williams took more risks she made more errors. Kerber held for 3 – 2 and then in the 16 point 6th game of the set, Kerber broke to take a 4 – 2 lead. That game featured Williams missing 10 of her 16 first serves and making 5 unforced errors including 2 double faults. Williams had 2 game points and Kerber broke on her 5th break point of the game.

Kerber served for the match at 5-3 but was denied by Williams who played a very solid game to break and get back on serve. The final game of the match was a microcosm of Williams’ play throughout. She missed 6 of her 8 first serves and made 3 unforced errors including an easy volley mistake on match point. Williams had 18 unforced errors in the set to just 3 from Kerber.

To beat Serena Williams, she has to have an off serving day and you have to make her work for her points. For the match Williams hit just 53% of her first serves in play (under 49% in the 2 sets she lost), and won just 42% of her 2nd serve points. She had averaged 40% unreturned serves coming into this match and against Kerber only 19% of her serves were not put back in play. As Serena struggled to find a rhythm on her serve she compensated by slowing it down. That worked for a set until Kerber realized she could step in and be more aggressive. Williams was broken 5 times by Kerber – she had lost serve 4 times in her previous 6 matches.

Kerber played a very smart match, minimizing risk and maintaining consistency while taking advantage of her opportunities. Kerber hit 25 total winners and made just 13 unforced errors. She converted 5 of her 9 break points and broke Serena’s serve in every game where she had a break chance. Williams hit 47 total winners and made 46 unforced errors.

It wasn’t just the poor serving and unforced errors that hurt Williams in this match, it was the timing. In the 5 games where Serena lost her serve, she hit just 14 of 39 first serves in play (36%), and that contributed to her making 15 unforced errors in those 5 games.

Let’s compare the statistics from the sets Serena lost to the set she won in the final:

Set Won Sets Lost
1st Serves in Play 64% 49%
1st Serve Points Won 78% 64%
2nd Serve Points Won 60% 37%

Total Winners 16 31
Total Unforced Errors 5 41

Kerber took great advantage of Serena’s serving woes – playing her best set when she needed it most. 12 winners and only 3 unforced errors in the final set – and amazingly not missing a single return of serve in the final set. That level of consistency eventually caused the defending champion to crack and gave Angelique Kerber the Australian Open title.

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January, 28th 2016


Men’s Singles

Top seed Novak Djokovic outclassed 3rd seed Roger Federer 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in 2 hours 19 minutes. 

Novak Djokovic put on a clinic in his win over Roger Federer.  Djokovic did not face a break point against his serve until the 6th game of the 3rd set.  By that time, he had built a 2 set lead and had taken control of the match.  Federer was able to convert his 4th break point in that game and then serve out the 3rd set which created a bit of excitement.  That lasted until Djokovic broke to take a 5-3 lead in the 4th set.

The key to their previous 44 matches was Federer’s serve versus Djokovic’s return.  This was no different.  Djokovic broke Federer in his opening service game of the match and the tone was set.  Djokovic broke Federer’s serve 5 times on 9 break points and effectively negated Federer’s biggest strength.  Federer won just 61% of his 1st serve points (he’d averaged 84% coming into this match) and 49% when he had to hit a 2nd serve.  Djokovic out aced Federer 10 – 5, won 77% of his 1st serve points, 66% of his 2nd serve points and held 16 of his 17 service games.

Total winners were almost even – 33 for Djokovic – 34 for Federer, but Federer could not match Djokovic’s consistency as he had more than twice as many unforced errors as the defending champion (51 unforced from Federer – 20 from Djokovic).  Federer’s errors weren’t the result of sloppy play, more the result of trying to raise his level of play.  When good isn’t good enough, you have to try for great and when you go for great your margin is so small that errors usually occur.  Federer’s 51 unforced errors are really a tribute to just how impenetrable Djokovic was.

Women’s Singles

Into the Finals – Top seed Serena Williams cruised into the final with a 6-0, 6-4 demolition of 4th seed Agnieszka Radwanska in 1 hour 4 minutes.

Serena Williams epitomizes “first strike” tennis.  She takes control from the first hit of each point, whether serving or receiving.  Serena overpowered Radwanska from the start with 18 total winners in the opening set to just 1 for Radwanska.  Serena lost 3 points on serve and 4 points on return to take the 1st set in just 20 minutes.  4 of Radwanska’s 7 points in the set came from unforced errors by Williams.

The 2nd set was a bit more of a battle as Radwanska managed to finally hold her own serve and broke Serena once to even the set at 3-3.  Radwanska fought off a break point to take a 4-3 lead before Serena ran off the last 3 games of the match.

The match statistics were eye popping.  Williams 42 total winners, Radwanska 4.  Williams won 23 of her 26 first serve points and fired in 8 aces.  Radwanska was broken 5 times and won only 23 of her 52 service points for the match.  Serena dominated the short points winning 41 of 64 points that lasted 4 shots or fewer. Serena was able to control the rallies and that allowed her to get to net at will.  She won 22 of 25 net approaches.  Her overall winner breakdown is rather impressive:  9 aces and service winners – 12 forehand winners – 7 backhand winners – 14 volley and overhead winners.

7th seed Angelique Kerber defeated unseeded Johanna Konta 7-5, 6-2 in 1 hour 22 minutes to advance to her first career Grand Slam singles final.

Kerber played solid, steady tennis to defeat Konta who was playing in her first Australian Open.  Kerber chose to just keep the ball in play, putting the pressure on her younger, less experienced opponent to come up with the winning shots.  That proved to be a winning strategy as Kerber made just 11 unforced errors to 36 from Konta.  22 of Konta’s 36 unforced errors came from her backhand side – a side that Kerber’s left handed game was able to attack.  Kerber hit 75% of her ad court serves out wide to Konta’s backhand.  Kerber made just 1 unforced error on her backhand in the match.

Other than unforced errors, the one statistic that stands out from this match is performance on 2nd serves.  Kerber won the battle of 2nd serves decisively.  On her own 2nd serve, Kerber won 19 of 28 points (68%) and won 13 of 21 (62%) when returning Konta’s 2nd serve.  That contributed to Kerber breaking Konta 5 times while Kerber held 8 of her 10 service games.

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