Two days after Serena Williams announced her retirement, Nike released a year-long study in the form of avatars, which showcased her commitment to staying on the top of her game for over two decades.

After analysing all data and footage from official tournaments throughout her career, machine learning was used to model her playing style across different eras. To make it accessible to everyone, AKQA turned the study into a live virtual match. It starred 17-year-old Serena, the age she was when she won her first Grand Slam, against 35-year-old Serena, the age she was when she won her 23rd Grand Slam.

An AI match-up of the ages.

Nike, together with AKQA studios in Melbourne, Portland and São Paulo traveled back in time to create a match-up between Serena from her first Grand Slam at the 1999 US Open versus her most recent at the 2017 Australian Open. The goal was to gain insight on how Serena got to where she is today and how she keeps challenging the future.

Machine learning was able to model each era’s playing style: decision making, shot selection, reactivity, recovery and agility based on archival footage. Building on the vid2player technique developed by Stanford University, Nike were able to bring the models of Serena to life by re-rendering the players from each generation into an entirely new scene and have them appear to be playing and responding to each other.

The matches served as a step towards a future of sports analytics for more human readable data visualisation. It is a new and accessible format for tennis experts to experience and interpret data. The simulated games aren’t just a chance to look back at historic accomplishments, they exhibit Serena’s decade after decade determination to never stop evolving. Even with the most Grand Slam titles in tennis history, Serena is always finding new ways to shatter expectations.

Game, Set, Serena.

The result was seeing both Serena’s play each other for 130,000 games and 5,000 matches, enough tennis matches to stream for an entire year if played back-to-back. The final gameplay was broadcasted to the public as a YouTube livestream reaching over 1.69 million of Nike’s subscribers. Lead up to the live event included social media posts promoting the broadcast across Nike’s Instagram and Twitter channels.



Digital Craft Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions 2023



Client: Nike. Advertising Agency: AKQA Melbourne, AKQA Portland, AKQA Sao Paulo. Design Agency: AKQA Sao Paulo. Production Company: Someday Spring Production. Country: Australia, Brazil, Republic of Korea, United States. Production: Hefty Sao Paulo. Post Production: Hefty Sao Paulo, Studio Zebra Florianopolis.

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