I recently found out one benefit of handling parenting duties early in the morning – watching sports happening on the other side of the globe. The game I watched, is the 2017 Australian Open Men’s final tennis between the legendary Roger Federer, 17 time grandslam champion and arguably the “greatest of all time” tennis player, versus Rafael Nadal, a 14 time grandslam champion, my early 20s “idol” for his toughness and mastery of top spin.
Going over the game detail is not the intention of this blog post. (This link will guide you to the official game recap). I’d rather share what I have learned, or more specifically, what inspired me from this match.
Federer used this phrase in the post game interview. I can’t agree more, as I believe it is the reason why Federer can outplay Nadal in the deciding set. In my mind, “play free” means focus 100% in the present, and let go everything else. It is really, really tough to achieve though. For example, a slight emotional fluctuation, caused by the previous lost point, could easily swing the 100% focus to 99.5%. The 0.5% could make one of the rally points 0.5 meters shorter or longer than expected, then that could be the difference between an unforced error, or a winner from the opponent. With this “play free” mindset, Federer’s rally points were deeper than I expected, and he was able to hit at least two beautiful backhand cross court winners. “The brave will be rewarded here” – he used that phase in the post game interview as well.
He was indeed rewarded, his 18th gram slam title. This has also reminded me, a few glimpses of memory during my proud decisions in my life, no matter if it is on the court, or off the court. When I looked back, whenever I was able to possess this mentality, I was rewarded as well.
Analytics has changed sports industry, no matter it is basketball, football, or tennis. From the official game page , we can find a lot of “interesting stats”. Most of them are presented in a way that make that audience feel comfortable, However, as a professional analyst and amateur tennis player, most of them look awkward to me, when it comes down to “what the numbers are telling us”. For example,I just can’t help but laugh at this “Key” section (See below).
Can I tell Nadal to win more than 53% of the medium rallies(rallies between 4-7 shot), because it will leads to an 83% of chance of winning?
On the one hand, why 53% not 54% or 55%? I guess winning 55% of medium rallies will leads to a higher percentage of winning chance, so why not using 55%?
On the other hand, as tennis players we have very limited control, if no control, of how long the rallies will last, which make focusing on “medium rally” almost useless.
In my opinion, a more reasonable breakdown will be looking at areas like “Serve placement”, “Serve spin level”, “rally placement(down the line or cross court)”, “approaching net percentage”. Once the analytics can tell us stories like “If I use slice serve in my 2nd serve to the Deuce side, it will increase my chances of winning by 10%”, it will be much more actionable.
Whether we have enough data points to analyze or not. I don’t know, likely not.
In order to create “real value”, an analyst should also been a subject matter expert(or obtain tons of context) in the function field, in order to determine if a “insight” is actionable or not. If it is not, the “insights” are just noise, wasting time for everyone.
In the end, no matter if it is “play free”, or “awkward stats”, they are just comments and feelings from me after watching the game. I don’t think I can “play free” in my next tennis tournament match, and the awkward stats might still stay there year after year. It might take months, or even years to come. Hopefully I heading in the right direction.