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The Choices That We Make

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The Choices That We Make

As tennis players there all sorts of choices to make: shot selection, which side to play as a doubles returner given who your partner is, whether or not to serve or receive to begin the match etc. Normally, we sort of think that “more advanced” players make better choices. But is this really true?

This weekend’s Pro Shootout at the Chestnut Ridge RC provided a “natural experiment” in which we could see if 6.0 players make good choices. The answer is “not really.” The Shootout format is a short-set format played until 4 with no-ad scoring. A 7-point tiebreak is played at 3-all. Players are grouped into 2 groups of 6 with the first and second place finishers making it to the semi-finals.

In the final, the eventual runner-up elected to receive when he won the toss. This choice ended up dooming his chances to win even before a point was played. Remember, these players are 6.0’s. This means that they dominate more or less with their serves. If either player gets broken, it is far better to be the one who has served first.

If your opponent has served first and things go wrong, i.e. he is broken, the match will last 6 games (if you hold and he holds until the end).  The same holds if there is a break at 1-all. In the case where your opponent serves first and loses her serve, she has 3 chances to break in order to reach the tiebreak: 0-1, 1-2, and 2-3.

However, if you serve first, a break at 1-0 is quickly built to 3-0 with a hold. Only 2 chances for the returner (opponent) to rebound. More chances to break means more chances to succeed! This is elementary probability.

In today’s Shootout, the player who won the toss elected to receive. Like duh! the match was over with this choice!

Great ball striking, amazing court coverage, and all court tennis dominated the Shootout. But in the end, a poor choice nearly predetermined the result in the finals. We all hate predetermination … let’s make smart choices!

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