IBM Watson Downgrades Djokovic at US Open

Novak Djokovic 2019 US Open

Official Grand Slam data analysis partner IBM has skeptically graded the chances of Novak Djokovic to win the 2021 US Open.

Heading into the tournament, “Power Rankings” on the US Open website have put 20-time Grand Slam Champion Djokovic as only the #2 favorite to win. At this stage, IBM Watson has picked current World #4 Alexander Zverev as having the best chance to grab the trophy.

Sometimes stuff just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Watson is the IBM-branded name for its AI (artificial intelligence) algorithm which makes predictions and generates models of probability in tennis.

It’s not the first time Watson has dissed Djokovic.

Back in July, at Wimbledon, the company’s algorithm only gave Djokovic a 57% chance of winning his 4th round match against Christian Garin, a contest the Serb went on to crush in straight sets.

IBM and the US Open have added some new, if nebulous, metrics to their mix. The website shows something called “Media Volume” and “Sentiment” as determining factors in Watson’s predictions. Media Volume apparently relates to how much attention the player is getting in the media. It’s unclear exactly how “Sentiment” figures into the algorithm, but it’s a metric which is rated positive, negative or neutral. Both Djokovic and Zverev rate as having a positive sentiment going into the 2021 US Open.

It’s odd that Zverev would have a “positive” sentiment, given a barrage of recent negative headlines involving allegations of abuse by a former girlfriend.

Perhaps AI has not yet advanced to accounting for all the nuance of the human experience. Zverev is not a robot. He’s a human being and therefore will feel some effect of the tumult in his personal and business life, though no computer could predict what effect that might be.

For Djokovic, you’d think that the current World #1, winner of three of this year’s Grand Slams, and a proven titan in best-of-five formats, would get more respect.

The “Power Rankings” are dynamic and will change based on player performance throughout the 2021 US Open, so it’s possible that Djokovic will eventually jump ahead of Zverev.

For what it’s worth, professional oddsmakers clearly favor Djokovic to win the tournament, so this US Open will be a grudge match between Las Vegas and Watson.

Another scenario is that they are both wrong and someone else wins the title, but as Djokovic chases the historic calendar Grand Slam, it’s doubtful he cares about predictions.

Main Photo from Getty.


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