WTA Decisions From the Backhand Corner Earlier this week I presented a lot of data about what happens when men face a makeable ball hit to their backhand corner. That post was itself a follow-up on a previous look at what happened when players of both genders attempted down-the-line backhands. Decision-making in the backhand corner is one of the biggest differences between pro men and women. Let me illustrate in the nerdiest way possible, with bug reports from the code I wrote to assemble these numbers. My first stab at the code to aggregate player-by-player numbers for men failed because some men never hit a topspin backhand from the backhand corner.
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WTA Decisions From the Backhand Corner Earlier this week I presented a lot of data about what happens when men face a makeable ball hit to their backhand corner. That post was itself a follow-up on a previous look at what happened when players of both genders attempted down-the-line backhands. Decision-making in the backhand corner is one of the biggest differences between pro men and women.
Let me illustrate in the nerdiest way possible, with bug reports from the code I wrote to assemble these numbers. My first stab at the code to aggregate player-by-player numbers for men failed because some men never hit a topspin backhand from the backhand corner.
At least, not in any match recorded by the Match Charting Project. The offending player who generated those divide-by-zero errors was Sam Groth. In his handful of charted matches, he relied entirely on the slice, at least in those rare cases where rallies extended beyond the return of serve.
Compare with the bug that slowed me down in preparing this post. The problematic player this time was Evgeniya Rodina. In nine charted matches, she has yet to hit a forehand from the backhand corner. If your backhand is the better shot, why would you run around it? Of the nearly players with five charted matches from the s, Rodina is the only one with zero forehands.
Faced with a makeable ball in the backhand corner, men and women both hit a non-slice groundstroke about four-fifths of the time. Yet most of the women with powerful forehands, like Serena Williams , have equal or better backhands, making it counter-productive to run around the shot. Here is the frequency with which players hit backhand and forehands in different directions from their backhand corner.
Women go up the middle a bit more often, which may partly be a function of using the topspin or flat backhand in defensive positions slightly more than men do.
The level of aggression and risk may be similar to that of a bullet aimed at a corner, but when we classify by direction, it looks a bit more conservative. Point probability Things get more interesting when we look at how these choices affect the likelihood of winning the point.
On average, a woman faced with a makeable ball in her backhand corner has a The serve has some effect on the potency those shots toward the backhand corner. If the makeable ball was a service return—presumably weaker than the average groundstroke—the probability of winning the point is The various decisions available to players each have their own effect on the probability of winning the point, at least on average. If a woman chooses to hit a down-the-line backhand, her likelihood of winning the point increases to If she makes that shot, her odds rise to The following table shows those probabilities for every decision.
There is little difference between Post-Shot and In-Play for down-the-middle shots, because they almost always go in. For the forehand probabilities, keep in mind that they are skewed by the selection of players who choose to use their forehands more often. Your mileage may vary, especially if you play like Rodina does.
Cautious recommendations Looking at this table, you might wonder why a player would ever make certain shot selections. The likelihood of winning the point before choosing a wing or direction is Even the most aggressive men run around only about one-quarter of their backhands, suggesting that it would be impractical to hit a forehand on the remaining three-quarters of opportunities.
The probabilities reflect what happened when players thought the shot was the best option available to them. Even though were occasionally wrong, this is very, very far from a randomized controlled trial in which a scientist told players to hit a down-the-line backhand no matter what the nature of the incoming shot.
That is, for players who consider them to be weapons. You only get those rosy forehand numbers if you can hit a forehand like Stosur does. That said, the table does drive home the point that conservative shot selection has an effect on the probability of winning points. But when more options are available, the riskier choices can be more rewarding. We established that the average player has a Here are the top 14 players—minimum ten charted matches, ranked by the probability of winning a point from that position.
It is particularly impressive that they make the cut, because their charted matches are not a random sample—they heavily tilt toward high-profile clashes against top opponents. The remainder of the list is a mixed bag of elites and journeywomen, backhand bashers and crafty strategists. Next are the players with the best chances of winning the point after hitting a forehand from the backhand corner. Both players usually opt for the backhand, but are extremely effective when they go for the forehand.
A particular area of interest is to break down backhand-corner opportunities or chances anywhere on the court even further. The average point probability of If some players are facing more tough chances, we should view those numbers differently. The Match Charting Project has accumulated shot-by-shot logs of nearly 7, matches. Many up and coming players have only a few matches charted, and many interesting matches of the past like most of those played by Li and Clijsters!
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