2007-01-24

Random thoughts on tennis

After watching almost every televised match of the Australian Open so far, I have gathered a few random thoughts on this sport, which may also have relevance to other sports as well.



1. Officiating by technology: Since last year, some of the major tennis tournaments, including this Australian Open, have introduced a video technology which is supposedly capable of determining where exactly the ball hits the ground. With this technology, whether a serve is a fault or not, or whether a return is in or out should be beyond dispute. I don't know how great this technology is. Let's assume that it is without fault at all.

Players are now allowed to challenge the umpire's decision and proceed to video decision. Of course, to prevent endless challenges, each player is only allowed to make a certain number of wrong challenges. Fair enough.

But the problem is, if you think the lineman's call or the umpire's overruling is wrong (and unfavourable to you), when do you make a challenge? Stop immediately, or play on and challenge after the conclusion of the point? And once the video decision is made, are there hard and fast and fair rules to decide whether to award the point to a player, or a reply of the point is necessary? The way I see it, players, umpires and commentators are still not too sure.

But more importantly, this video technology tend to underline the authority of the umpire. In some other sports, the umpires uses video technology to aid his decisions. In tennis, the players use this technology to challenge the umpire. In the past, the umpire was never wrong, because he/she had the final say. Now, he/she can be proven wrong by technology, and quite often too. One noticeable change in the behaviour of umpires is that they tend to be more cautious in exercising their judgement and overruling linesman's calls, since they won't look too good by overruling the linesman just to be proved wrong and overruled by video decision subsequently.

There have been lots of calls within the soccer community to introduce some form of video refereeing. I think the tennis game offers some good points for the authorities to consider.

2. First serve, second serve: I have never, ever watched any player who doesn't use different strategies for first and second serves. Strange, I think. Of course I understand that if your first serve is a fault, you have the chance of a second serve, whereas if this happens in the second serve you immediately lose a point. So, it is understandable that most players have a much stronger and riskier first serve, and a weaker but safer second serve.

But the strange thing is, whether one should use a strong or weaker second serve is ultimately governed by the probability of winning that point. Analytically, the probability of winning is a function having the serve "in", and winning the point when it is "in". Surely, there must be someone somewhere in this world which would have his/her first serve as the best bet for the second serve. This is especially so considering the unmistakable trend of having more big servers at the top echelon of the tennis game.

I really would like to see at least one tennis player who serves the same way regardless of whether it is a first or second serve.

3. What makes a top player: Time and time again, I can see what makes a winner is largely mental. Top players and not-so-top players are both capable of playing excellent tennis. But tennis is a sport where players have a lot of time to "think", between points, between games, and between sets. Mental strength is therefore of utmost importance.

We all know that top players do not panic when they are losing, although it is much easier said than done. They tend to be patient and try to execute a Plan B to turn the match around. This is exactly what not-so-top players are incapable of. They tend to become disheartened when things are against them, and their game go downhill from there.

What is more interesting is that top players also do not panic when they are winning! Often, I can see a (usually) young and upcoming player playing a faultless game against a top player, only to lose it completely when he/she is so damn close to winning the match. It is as if something mentally goes wrong once he/she senses victory.

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Hey, this is the 1,000th post of JTBlog!

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