The Sony Ericsson ATP tennis tournament at Miami illustrated how players find creative and unexpected ways of coping with rule changes
From the UK, the Miami event plays out often into the early morning, GMT. This mini-post may thus have been influenced by sleep deprivation …
The Murray versus Del Potro semi-final furnished some nice examples of players cottoning on to creative use (and abuse) of newly introduced rule changes.
Non-tennis players begin here
Tennis has introduced a natty technology giving players the right to appeals line-calls. To avoid excessive appeals, there is a limit of three unsuccessful appeals every set. The ultimate authority resides in the technology which tracks ball-movements, now revealed on giant screens to ums and ohs from the fans. Despite reservations, the technology has been around for some while and seems mostly accepted by players and officials alike. It is also a crowd-pleaser.
The intention behind introducing the hawkeye system is to provide fairer decisions for the players, and perhaps reduce abuse of umpire and officials. Both seem to have been achieved to a degree.
In the course of the match, a commentator supplied some stats on how successful the top players had been in their challenges. Only one player had a better than 50% success rate. That was Novak Djokovic. Murray was down at the bottom of the list with less than 25% success rate. As it tuned out, Murray was to go on to contest the final at Miami with Djokovic [Sunday April 5th 2009].
Curious. This researcher’s interest was aroused (even at 2pm in the morning in the semi-final). Both players made unconvincing linecalls. But some unexpected explanations emerged from the SKY commentators. Del Potro, bothered by an injury, found various ways of grabbing a few extra seconds after toughly contested points. An appeal after one rather obviously correct call served the purpose very nicely. He had remained within the letter of the law, even if it had the unintended consequences as far as the legislators were concerned of giving a player a bit of breathing space (almost literally). .
Quickly after, Murray made an equally unconvincing challenge. Was he too grabbing a time-out from the battle? Possibly. But another explanation was suggested by the SKY commentator. It seems that Murray, nothing if not a strategic thinker, had been talking of using a line call appeal to figure out just how wayward his shot had been. The statistically minded might dig more deeply to see whether the stats for players may throw light on such cunning ruses.
Other tennis pros, maybe. Sporting innovators are destined to attract sporting imitators, and that’s how ‘progress’ (or at least change) occurs. Also, of interest to various anoraks who dream up theories of change leadership and innovation.