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ATP Tennis 360


October 4, 2009 8:44 AM

In modern tennis serve doesn't almost count - Introduction





“Unless you're one of those rare mutant virtuosos of raw force, you'll find that competitive tennis, like money pool, requires geometric thinking, the ability to calculate not merely your own angles but the angles of response to your angles. Because the expansion of response-possibilities is quadratic, you are required to think n shots ahead, where n is a hyperbolic function limited by the sinh of opponent's talent and the cosh of the number of shots in the rally so far (roughly)”.



If your thoughts on court are less analytical of David Foster Wallace's ones, the difficulties in answering increase. And the serve, as a fundamentral of the game but principally seen as the stroke to start and determine your game, becomes more and more relevant. But how much? A possible answer, a first rough evaluation of the importance of service in determining the result of a tennis match, could arrive analysing the percentage of tiebreaks played our-of the total amount of sets run off. The data presented here consider this percentage only in Grand Slam tournament since 1980 to 2008, so considering also the not-so-world class last Australian Open editions at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club. This index has the advantage of being simple to be read and immediate to understand, giving a cleare image without implying an excessive sacrifice to euristic deepness.





AO

RG

Wim

UsO

1980-84

18,2

10,5

18,2

12,9

1985-89

15,6

11,3

18,5

13,2

1990-94

12,5

11,7

17,9

15,1

1995-99

14,8

12,9

18,6

14,5

2000-04

15,3

13,1

20

16,8

2005-08

15,2

13,4

20,2

17,3





Tiebreak percentage has been measured, for every year, out of the number of sets effectively played, excluding so the ones not played or only half completed because of withdraws or walkovers. To give uniformity to theese data, letting us so to create solid comparisons, the fifth sets at Wimbledon, Paris and Melbourne finished with scores exceeding the 6-6 (8-6, 9-7...), considering that in those three Slams there isn't tiebreak in the last set, were counted as tiebreaks, because they are a even better demonstration of how much the result is anchored to serves.





The empirical data confirms that, in the three major not experiencing a surface change in the considered period, serve has stepped up his relevance but has never become really decisive. The Australian Open exception, with a slightly sinusoidal trend, appears largely due to the passage from lawn to hardcourts, because in the first nine years (in 1988 Australian Open weren't played), with the tournament hosted at Kooyong on the lawn, the registered percentage there and at Wimbledon are highly comparable.



The first image emerging from this analysis shows an increasing relevance of serve, but the moderated trend shows how in tennis, contrarily to other disciplines like swimming or Formula 1, techical evolution is less determining.



In the next days I'll try to give some possible answers to this phenomenon.

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