Tennis and IT: Lots of Room for Advancement
I had a chance to go through Steve Tignor's post on the recent Davis Cup encounter between Ivo Karlovic and Radek Stepanek. He has brilliantly described what Karlovic might be going through after suffering perhaps the toughest loss of his career.
Karlovic's complete lack of all-around game prevented him from prevailing, even after hitting a record 78 aces, a record which he is likely to hold for years to come.
As I was discussing this Croatian Giant with my friend, we stumbled across an interesting fact. Karlovic has lost all three matches—every one of them going the distance—in which he served more than 50 aces. Even though it sounded astonishing at first,
we concluded it to be the most logical outcome.
It was inevitable that these three matches were stretched to five sets—for even Dr. Ace would require five sets to serve 50 aces—and once that happens, he doesn't have the weapons or fitness to win the match.
Our curiosity level rose, and we discussed whether Karlovic has ever won a five-set match in his career! If yes, how many has he really won? Our interesting discussion suffered a premature ending as we did not know the answer to this.
Information Technology has made rapid strides in the last few years. It has affected sports in a positive way; and tennis is no exception. The archive of players' interviews, match-to-match details, videos and recordings of past matches,
online journalism—this web site being an example—everything has reinvented the game for its fans.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the high-definition (HD) streaming of the U.S. Open by usopen.org which alleviated the user experience enormously.
Despite such advancement, my friend and myself were unable to find the answer to
our question—how many five-set matches have been won by Ivo Karlovic?
The official web site of ATP is a decent player database, containing head-to-head records and match statistics of tournaments as early as the '80s, but that is as far as the information is provided.
The lack of such data-mining can be disappointing for a tennis junkie who likes to play with numbers. Did you know that Pete Sampras won 91 percent of his service games during the 90s? This is astonishing, but by no means unexpected. But is there a place where I can verify this information?
Perhaps tennis should take a cue from Cricket, where a web site called cricinfo.com has an exhaustive database of cricket matches dating from as far back as the '70s. The organization of data is brilliant, and the "Statsguru Analysis" feature in the web site allows a user to dwell deep into statistics.
For example, if one needs to know the number of centuries (innings lasting over 100 runs) scored by Sachin Tendulkar in a fourth innings of a test match played outside of India, one can simply select the required fields and detailed information of the same will be presented.
This may sound like useless information, but scoring a century in the fourth innings of a test match is actually one of the important criterion used to measure the greatness of a cricket batsman.
Coming back to tennis, the usefulness of such a web site can be tremendous in
analyzing the game better. Wouldn't it be amazing if I could know the ratio of points in which Stefan Edberg approached the net on grass courts in the matches he won?
Or, for that matter, the comparison of the winners to unforced errors ratio of both
Pete Sampras and Roger Federer in their respective primes.
The official web sites of ATP and WTA already has in-depth data of statistics for
almost all matches—at least after the '90s—and these can easily be organized
to present a wealth of data to common fans.
Of course, it would require enough funds to be poured, but the end result would be fantastic. Hopefully, one of these days, an inspired software engineer—and not a lazy <beep> like me—will take up the task and make the game even more presentable.
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