Monday, January 25, 2010

Tennis Drama

I just received an email from John Yandell at Not a personal email, just the one he sends out to everyone regarding his latest monthly offering. One of the articles he mentions is by Alan Fox. In the article Alan calls the tennis scoring system diabolical. I haven't read Alan's take, yet, but I think the scoring system is diabolical, too.

The tennis scoring system, points accumulating into games, games accumulating into sets, and sets accumulating into matches makes for interested waves of stress and drama. Tension builds within games and then falls as a new game starts. Tension builds within sets and then falls when a new set starts.

Among the changes I would like to see in tennis is the elimination of the second serve. I won't go into all the reasons for such a move, but I think that the tennis scoring system and the pattern of drama that it causes makes me think twice about the elimination of second serves. With only one serve, the probability of winning a point is much more equal between server and returner. This means that holding serve will be much less important. If a break of serve is not so important, then the drama of each game will decrease early in a set. Winning a game will still be significant, of course, but much less so than when breaking serve is much more difficult.

When I watch Wimbledon I'm much more interested in the first few games of a set than I am when I'm watching the French Open. On the grass at Wimbledon, breaking serve is very difficult. Therefore a break of serve at any time could determine the winner of the set. On the clay of Paris, a break of serve is more common, so an early break of serve is not as likely to determine the winner of a set. Therefore, the drama of the early games of a set is much lower on clay than on grass.

By analogy then, if players have only one serve instead of two, breaks of serve would be much more common and the drama of the early games of a set would be much lower.

That's good if you want a chance to go to the bathroom, get a drink, or talk to your friends. But it's bad if you're looking to keep the interest of the fans and keep the tension high for the players.

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