Mathematical Strategy: How to Succeed in Tennis?


STARNBERG, October 6, 2020 (Guest post)

In 2012, researchers Ching-Hua Chiu and Szu-Yuan Tsao published a research study that changed the way people viewed tennis… and math. The researchers established an algorithm by applying physics theory. Then, they used the Spline function to formulate an algorithm for 3D defense space. Two students from a college tennis team implemented the strategies into their game, and the researchers observed their results. It turned out that the mathematical model was highly effective in improving the players’ strategy in training and official games.

Tennis players are always aware of the laws of physics. They know that the wind, terrain, strength, angle, and all other parameters influence the way the tennis ball moves. However, they are mostly guided by instincts in their game. They learn to evaluate the strength of the upcoming move according to the situation. That’s a good thing, but can we include the brain more? Can tennis players achieve better results if they rely less on instincts and more on knowledge?

Understand the Geometry of the Game

When college professors assign a math problem, many students struggle with it. They find geometry especially challenging, since they’ve learned to perceive space with their senses and instincts. It’s just like they do when playing tennis. When an assignment requires them to apply math into space, they start searching for solutions: “can someone solve my math problem easily?” They end up rewriting assignments from their friends or hiring professional writers to complete their homework. It’s time to change that. Math has a practical purpose, which you’ll understand more than ever when you apply it to your tennis game.

The game of tennis is all about hitting the right angles. You receive the ball, and you want to create an angle that ends with a position your opponent is not able to reach. Connoisseurs say that when a player controls the middle of the court, they can create wider angles and overwhelm the opponent.

To create wider angles, you should position yourself closer into the court. Whenever possible, the trick is to take the ball on the rise. Your opponent will try to do the same: they will gradually move closer in, so they can create greater angles. To prevent that from happening, you should hit the ball earlier, so you’ll give them less time to react and catch your angle.

The mathematical concepts involved in this strategy are called Coefficient of kinetic friction and Coefficient of resolution. They are based on elements of space, such as angles, distance, and ration, but on speed as well.

Statistics Matter, Too

Tennis fans rely on statistics when they bet on games. They usually bet on their favorite player, but they also rely on mathematical analytics to predict the outcome of a game when they don’t have favorites. Good tennis players know that mathematical statistics are important for their game, too.

By analyzing your opponent’s previous games, you can become aware of their strengths and weaknesses. You can easily get basic stats, which include unforced errors, break points converted, second-serve return points won, break points saved, first serve percentage, and more. These analytics help you get into the opponent’s habitual play, so you’ll hit them where they are most vulnerable, and you’ll match their strengths with your own game.

Do your best to analyze players before each game you play. Your coach can help in this process, but you can also get help by a statistics expert, who can explain what the numbers mean. It won’t take too long before you learn how to understand the stats. If tennis fans can do it, so can you.

Practice to Improve your Angles

When analyzing your opponent’s previous games, you should pay attention to the angles they reach when playing at their best and their worst. Then, analyze your own games to capture the same data. The upper limit is your strength, and you want to improve it. But you also want to improve your lower limit, so you’ll overpower your opponent even when the game is weak.

This is the point where theory meets practice. When it comes to theory, you can turn to math and statistics experts and ask: “Can you help me solve my math assignment?” But when it comes to practice, it’s all on you. You need to understand the mathematical theories behind the game and use them to boost the power and effectiveness of your game. Play smart!

BIO: Vendy Adams has a nerdy approach to sports. She’s a fan who enjoys statistics and theories of physics and math behind the games. She uses this knowledge to predict the outcome of games, but she also enjoys playing tennis for fun.