Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The gut is right!

Preface: BOCTAOE.

Happiness usually results when one's subjective instincts are validated by more or less scientific methods.

In our somewhat sports-nutty home, Sumana and I made the observation that top mens' tennis players, as general practice, seemed to cruise through their early games without expending too much effort. Basically, they would take it easy, clinch a break, and sail through the match, one set at a time, and by and large on a single break of serve. Imagine my delight when I found out that not only did economists agree, but that this had also been objectively proved!

The basic premise of the linked blog post and the PDF are actually different: the post talks about how the clustered scoring system in tennis differs from a cumulative one like, say, basketball, and the paper is about "Gender Differences in Performance in Competitive Environments".

The paper is pretty revealing about several aspects of tennis though, and a particularly good commentary on the state of the sport in the 2006-2007 period. From its abstract:
It finds that at crucial junctures of the match the probability that a point ends in an unforced error increases substantially for women, but remains unchanged for men. Data on serve speed, on first serve percentages and on rally length suggest that women play a more conservative and less aggressive strategy as points become more important.
I am going to use the blog post and paper to make some (wholly unsubstantiated by data, as of now) observations.

On the whole, in the last 5 years or so, mens' matches seem to be more evenly matched. This can be attributed to both the phenomenon of the top players cranking it up a notch at crucial points, but also to the fact that the 'spread' in the abilities of the top mens players appears to be a whole lot lesser than the similar 'spread' for the good ladies of the WTA Tour.

I suspect that the top players realise both this and the findings of the paper intuitively, and hence the women set out to 'demolish' their easier opponents, while the men prefer to conserve energy to 'peak' at the right time, which might be proved if one looked at the number of bagels and breadsticks for the men vs those for the womens' matches, over the last 5 years.

Ah, if only there were a StatsGuru equivalent for tennis!

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