Gamesmanship in Tennis

15/07/2017 | By | Reply More

It was interesting to see the outrage over Cillic’s very slow service during the Wimbledon semi-finals.


I’ve mentioned on the blog several times that elements of gamesmanship are prevalent in Tennis. They are all designed to throw the person on the other side of the net off balance and out of the zone.

You see medical timeouts, comfort breaks, disputes, rain breaks when there are just a few drops. There is no better way to put your opponent off stride and regain momentum yourself.

Discovery by accident

I’ve studied Tennis in infinite detail over the years and one of the things I did was to look at the time between points. I wondered if it would be a proxy for whether a player was getting tired. My results were inconclusive as it was hard to correctly identify if a player was tired from by judging the time it took to complete or start individual points. I parked the research for a while,¬†then one day I saw Rafa Nadal get a time violation during a game.

I immediately set about looking for examples of time violations to see if that was the reason I couldn’t spot the impact of time as a proxy of tiredness. What I discovered, led me deeper into the realms of gamesmanship in Tennis.

When you look at Nadal, he takes ages to serve. But sometimes much longer than others. The most number of violations occurred when he was 30-40 down and facing a break point. But generally at something-40 to his opponent, he took much longer than at other score lines. If this was deliberate then we should see a sliding scale on less important score lines. That is exacly what we saw.

While not the most comprehensive study I’ve done. It does appear to show that he is injecting some doubt or frustration into his opponent using a delaying tactic. It’s not wildly different to the annoying habit Sharapova has of turning away from a server so she controls when they¬†serve.

Mr Cillic, guilty as charged.


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I left a good job in the consumer technology industry to go a trade on Betfair for a living way back in June 2000. I've been here ever since pushing very boundaries of what's possible on betting exchanges and loved every minute of it.

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