AKQA: Nike’s Never Done Evolving

Serena Williams and text reading Never Done Evolving

AKQA: Nike’s Never Done Evolving

An AI match-up of the ages

Nike is celebrating the most significant moments throughout its history, including the achievements of legendary athletes — like the one-and-only Serena Williams.

Just as Serena announced that she is evolving away from tennis, and that the 2022 U.S Open, where she won her first Grand Slam, would be her final tournament, Nike and AKQA unveiled a project that shows how her game has developed over her career – by pitting her against herself.

Nike, together with AKQA studios in Melbourne, Portland and São Paulo travelled 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. Harnessing the power of advanced AI and machine learning, the campaign shows Serena’s evolution like never before.

The goal was to gain insight into how Serena’s style and gameplay got her where she is today and how she kept pushing the limits of excellence throughout her career. Machine learning was able to model Serena’s playing style in each era, including 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 campaign, part of Nike's 50th anniversary celebrations, saw the two versions of Serena play each other for 130,000 games and 5,000 matches. The final game was broadcast to the public via YouTube livestream, with social media posts promoting the broadcast across Nike’s Instagram and Twitter channels.