Murray beats Janovicz in Beijing

September 30, 2014

Match report 30 Sept 2014

Live reporting

Andy Murray fights back to win a title in Szechuan last week, and moves on to Beijing. He risks an early exit to an opponent who beat him comfortably in their last encounter

Murray starts in hesitant mood against Janovicz. He doesn’t look a player capable of beating this opponent.

Murray loses first service game then goes 0-2. Then 0-3 to a second break.

Immediate and longer term problems

The immediate problem is a flatness to his play. Former coach Mark Petchey lists the problems. A tough schedule the previous week. 1500 mile trip to Beijing. Murray likes to feel his way into the game.

Longer term problems

Murray admitted in an interview that negativity had crept into his play. Maybe, he said not entirely convincingly, the win will help.

The match continues

First serve 30% . Overall play poor.

Breaks but then is broken. 1-4.murray has been broken three times in succession. Has one 1 out of 13 second serves. Can’t deal with J. ‘s drop shots.
1-5. Still hasn’t won a serve. J is winning without being tested. Murray wins a serve by J errors. 2-5 j takes eye drops.

M loses first point to another drop shot. But due to his own weak return. Still mostly winning points by J errors. Enough to win game.
‘He carried a bit of momentum forward.’ Petchey. Gets two first serves in. Back to 5-4.

‘He’s got some momentum’.

Tighter game. Murray breaks again. Wins serve. M playing better

Murray reaches tie break. Gets to 5-5. 6-6 7-7 8-8 9-9 11-9 J wins tie break
Murray could have been more aggressive

Second set

J. wins serve 1-0

Games closer. J still the more aggressive. Neither player precise. 2-2 3-3 4-4 M still too timid in rallies.

Murray breaks. 5-4 Both players played nervous game. And serves out

1 set all

First games follow similar pattern. Murray little less nervous than before?
1-1

Murray breaks. And then holds serve 3-1 3-2

And 4-2

J drops a second serve. 5-2

Murray serves out and wins two sets to one

Was there a momentum swing? If so, how did it disappear as AM led in tie break and then lost tie break in first set?


Berdych beats Ferrer: Injustice as a spur to change

January 21, 2014

Injustice as a tipping point? Berdych v Ferrer.

I remain unconvinced about the tipping point theory of change. An incident in a tennis match, however, appears to give the theory supporting evidence.

Thomas Berdych and Ferrer were playing for a place in the semi-finals at the Australian Open [21 January, 2014] Ferrer was out of sorts, Berdych playing at his best. Ferrer, the higher ranked player, is noted for his tenacity, Berdych for his power.

Berdych sweeps to a two set lead, then Ferrer ups his game, Berdych dips. Ferrer improves and wins third set.

Commentators see that ‘momentum has swung’ to Ferrer. [Another dubious concept but also another blog post.]

The tipping point?

The tipping point occurred when Berdych was given a code violation for slow play. His resigned attitude seemed to change. He played more aggressively and became competitive. Breaks and retains advantage at 5-3

Conclusion. One episode supporting tipping point theory.


The America’s Cup 2013 and the Ainslie effect

September 27, 2013

America's Cup 2013The victory this week by the American team Oracle, in the prestigious America’s cup yachting competition was hailed as one of the all-time great sporting recoveries. It coincided with a leadership intervention. It is tempting to see a simple cause and effect relationship.

Background:

The BBC account [September 26 2013] recorded the astonishing comeback:

Sir Ben Ainslie’s Oracle Team USA sealed one of sport’s greatest comebacks when they overhauled an 8-1 deficit to beat Team New Zealand [The Emirates, Nexpresso] in the America’s Cup decider in San Francisco. The holders won eight straight races to triumph 9-8 after being docked two points for cheating in the build-up. Oracle surged to victory by 44 seconds to retain the Cup they won in 2010.

The Kiwis won four of the first five races, making Oracle modify their boat and call Ainslie from the warm-up crew. The British sailing legend, 36, a four-time Olympic champion, was drafted in as tactician in place of American veteran John Kostecki and was instrumental in the US outfit’s resurgence.

“It’s been one of the most amazing comebacks ever, I think, almost in any sport but certainly in sailing and to be a part of that is a huge privilege,” said Ainslie, who combined superbly with Oracle’s Australian skipper James Spithill and strategist Tom Slingsby, another Australian who won Laser gold at London 2012, to drag the syndicate back from the brink in the most remarkable turnaround in the event’s 162-year history.

The New Zealanders, with impressive early pace upwind and slicker boat handling, opened up a seven-point lead (six to minus one) as Oracle’s crew and equipment changes took effect. But the US outfit, bankrolled by software billionaire Larry Ellison, were soon up to speed and won 10 of the next 12 races to lift the oldest trophy in international sport.

The Kiwis, led by skipper Dean Barker, came within two minutes of glory in race 13 in uncharacteristic light winds before organisers abandoned the race because the 40-minute time limit had elapsed. In the decider on San Francisco Bay, Team New Zealand edged a tight start and beat Oracle to the first mark. The Kiwis stayed clear around the second mark but lost the lead to the Americans early on the upwind leg. After briefly retaking the advantage, the Kiwis then watched as Oracle stormed ahead with remarkable upwind pace and remained clear for a comfortable win.

The ‘Ainslie and momentum’ story

One story is that faced with a deficit of 8-1 in a first to 9 match, the Americans called for Ainslie, and Oracle won eight straight races. Ainslie described how ‘momentum’ had swung in favour of the Oracle team during the fight back.

An alternative analysis

After four straight losses, the Oracle team introduced a whole series of changes, including serious technical modifications and personnel adjustments. Increased competitive performances followed, but another four races were lost. Then a win, almost certainly seen as a consolation before eventual capitulation. Even with an edge in performance, Oracle would have to survive all literal and metaphorical ill-winds for all eight remaining races. The team was close to losing the match in race 13, which was abandoned, boats becalmed, with their opponents well ahead. That would have ended the beautiful story of a glorious fight back.

In this alternative analysis, a series of changes both of technical and behavioural kind resulted in a significant improvement in performance. There was no identifiable tipping point, although one seems likely to be created in hindsight as the appointment of Ainslie.

Implications

Beware of simple causal explanations of change processes. Test theoretical explanations based on terms such a a tipping point or a momentum swing against the evidence of what happened in practice. In the UK the team has been regularly described as Ainslie’s team. The notion of distributed leadership has a long way to go.


The fight for the ashes: A tale of two Captains

August 13, 2013

The 2013 cricket matches between England and Australia showed two different styles of captaincy. It could be argued that the England had the better team and won, Australia had the better captain and lost

Monday 12th August 2013, approximately 6.30pm local time A cricket match in the scenic little town of Chester le Street in Durham was well into its fourth day, with Australia in control. The most likely outcome was an Australian victory sometime in the afternoon of the following day. England were leading with two victories and a draw. Australia could still draw the series by winning the match and then the final contest the following week. The match was running later that the scheduled finish time for the day to make up for time lost through rain in the afternoon session.

Thoughts turned to dinner and to catching up through a highlights programme of the penultimate day’s play a few hours later.

Monday 12th August 2013, approximately 8.30pm local time Returned from delights of Pepperoni pizza in downtown Bramhall. Astonished to find that the match was over. Jubilant players were mingling with jubilant supporters. Australia had collapsed. England had won the series.

A tale of two Captains

If we are to take the media reports seriously, Australia were a relatively weak team captained with panache and skill by Michael Clarke. England had the stronger team captained by the inexperienced Alistair Cook. Clarke repeatedly found imaginative ways to unsettle the England team’s batting efforts, and ‘led from the front’ almost winning the previous game, only thwarted by bad weather. Cook’s captaincy was criticized for putting safety first, waiting for the Australian batsmen to self-destruct. In several matches this eventually worked, only after Australia had worked their way to winning positions.

If we don’t take the media reports seriously …

There is a dilemma of leadership here. In tightly contested matches, you might expect better captaincy to swing the matches in favour of their teams. Possibility one is that Cook’s captaincy was not as bad as some pundits opined. Possibility two there were other apparently game-changing factors. Home advantage might have been one, for example.

What the papers say

I have refrained from reading what the newspapers say until after completing this post. They may tell the story as a tale of two captains, or the brilliant final bowling spell of England’s Stuart Broad, or the fine batting of Ian Bell which more than compensated for the batting of Australian captain Michael Clarke.

Next series

Cricket continues on its remorseless way. In less than six months, it will be Australia on home grounds against England. Another series to enjoy and create the leaders we deserve?

Follow up news on captaincy

The crude ‘good captain/bad captain debate continued. I haven’t found adverse comments on Clarke’s captaincy. The original comments on Cook’s performance have been rejected by several team members and coaching staff. Ian bell wrote of Cook’s outstanding skills at leadership when crisis loomed – calming the team and encouraging them to perform better. Coach Andy Flower was even more effusive in praising Cook’s leadership skills The issue may not be unconnected with the England Captain’s apparent drop in batting form in the series

Which suggests me that the criticisms of Cook may reflect leadership decisions mostly tactical on the field; that he is respected and liked in the dressing room; that the views of coach and players may capture aspects of his leadership style perhaps influenced by a desire to react to criticisms of Cook’s captaincy. AS so often, the evaluation of a captain’s capabilities defies simplistic polarity into ‘good Captain/bad captain.


Murray v Djokovic: Momentum swings are mostly in the emotions of onlookers

January 27, 2013

Australian Open Tennis Final 2013. The commentators talk frequently about momentum swings. Closer inspection suggests this is mostly revealing only of the emotional swings of the observers

Tudor Rickards

One thing trumps even watching the start of the Australian Open Tennis Final. That is an indoor court booked for an hour’s hitting just as the final starts. We trudge though snow. [Yes, this is the UK not Oz]. Others crowd around the TVs in the clubhouse.

Return to clubhouse to learn the match is well-balanced at one set all.

Set three

I learn that Murray has just lost the second set after appearing to be in charge. Calls for medical help on a gory foot blister. Much talk of momentum shift. Monumental effort needed by Murray, says Andrew Castle and John Lloyd on BBC TV. As far as I can see, nothing has ‘swung’. Both players are still serving and returning nervelessly. They seem to be deliberately conserving energies on opponent’s serve, in order to make winning their own service games easier.

At 3-3, the commentators still talking about Murray having to overcome ‘monumental’ disappointment of losing the previous set and having to cope with his blister. Their emotional state builds up as each Murray serve is seen as potential set-loser. Of course, the same applies to Djokovic. Who goes 5-3 up, and then wins third set.

Set four

Murray slightly weary. Drops serve. Djokovic now clearly is stronger physically. Murray loses the close points. Seems to be much more physical decline than evidence of effect of a metaphysical concept such as momentum. The fitter guy prevails. Now the commentators agree that Djokovic won because he played the better tennis, particularly at key points.

Momentum v Momentum Denying

In looking closely at this, I realize that momentum is a difficult to refute concept. As it relies on momentum swings, it is not disproved by a player coming back after losing momentum.

It seems to me that the concept could do with some closer attention. Me, I’ m still a momentum denier.


Morale, motivation and momentum: three mysterious concepts

February 13, 2012

Motivation remains a much used term in organizational life. Much the same might be said of morale, a term generally applied in a military context, and momentum, particularly found in sports commentaries

Recent press reports have discussed the old military concept of morale among serving troops. Discussion has focused around whether entertainment can have a positive and relatively long-lasting effect on well-being of the recipients.

Research results

A research report from the department of psychiatry of Kings College London attempts to demystify the phenomenon. The following summarises the college press bulletin of Feb 12th 2012.

The report takes a historical look at the impact of entertainment on troop morale, from World War I to the conflict in Afghanistan today. Its author notes that

‘No single factor can be guaranteed to raise morale, but those that do, will undoubtedly have some effect on mental well-being. Whilst entertainment cannot, and does not, provide absolute protection against the psychological problems associated with war, it does have a role to play in protecting service personnel against mental health problems.’

The report suggests a clear association between falling morale and rising mental health problems. Many factors are indicative of poor morale, such as desertion, absenteeism, disciplinary offences and sickness. Factors that are believed to raise or sustain morale are confidence in commanders, unit cohesion, belief in the task and the fair provision of rest and recreation.

Mark Cann, director of the sponsors of the report concurs:

‘Sending the biggest names in entertainment, free, to the frontline as volunteers with the support of the British public has a proven effect on morale, so long as it is carried out in the right way. We at the British Forces Foundation hope the findings might encourage a review of how military entertainment is conducted in future so that our work may be as effective as possible.’

The BBC added to the story drawing on historical and contemporary examples, and quotes from two military leaders

Despite a lack of research into the value of the entertainment provided to servicemen during WWI, [World War 1] it is hard to imagine it could have been anything other than a major morale-boost during such a terrible conflict.

“Morale is a state of mind. It is that intangible force which will move a whole group of men to give their last ounce to achieve something, without counting the cost to themselves; that makes them feel that they are part of something greater than themselves.” (Field Marshal Slim, 1956)

“Without high morale, no success can be achieved, however good may be the strategic or tactical plan, or anything else.” (Field Marshal Montgomery, 1950)

What the textbooks don’t say

Even the standard textbooks on leadership are quiet on the nature of morale, and those other M-words motivation and momentum, although there are firms offering advice and courses for dealing with the issues. My concern is that the advice I found seems firmly grounded within current Anglo-Saxon interests in feel-good factors and positive psychology and as suggested in the King’s college report, more evidence-based studies may be needed. It would be good to test variations across other cultures.


Murray v Nishikori: The progress principle

January 25, 2012

Kei Nishikori

Murray has had a good Australian Open. But has he improved his play?

I watched, again, bleary-eyed, as Murray, (seed 4) played and beat the 24th seed Kei Nishikori in the quarter finals [25th Jan 2012]. I wanted to see if there had been signs of significant change in his play.

Three patterns of play were checked.

PMA

In the past, Murray’s mental attitude has been predictable. Predictable rather than positive? Under pressure he tends to get hard on himself (and his coaches). That’s changed a bit. Maybe he won’t aim his anger towards his new coach, eight time major winner Ivan Lendl . maybe, he is even managing his anger better.

His serve

Not much change here. Percentage still too low. But hits winners under pressure.

His mid-match slump?

Most disturbing was his continued tendency to drop games having gained a measure of controll over the match. I wondered would it happen after he won the first set. I wondered again after broke in the first game. Then he dropped his serve, admittedly to a ‘dead’ net mishit, but he had already lapsed.

It is too harsh to call this a major slump. But the pattern was too familiar and a bit predictable. A return to ‘normal service’ literally followed plus a break. Murray wins set easily.

And match

Mishikori, more fatigued after a tougher journey, wilted in the third set. Murray wins 6-3, 6-3, 6-1

The progress principle

In an earlier round of the tournament we commented on Murray as illustrating the principle of mommentum. For this match we might shift attention to the progress (or performance) principle.


On Pelotons, Tigers, and Leading from the Front in the Tour de France

July 17, 2009

Peloton

Peloton


The Tour de France, and the Open Golf Championship both offer insights about leading from the front

Susan asks good questions. Ones I don’t have answers to. This week, as we were watching Tour de France highlights on Eurosport, she broke in with

“How is it the main group always catches the breakaway leader?”

Our cycling friends have been quick to provide us with answers. It seems that sometimes, the front-runner does escape and win. But far more often, the breakaway leader is overtaken by the main group or Peloton.

The peloton is like some monstrous cycling centipede possessing the wisdom of the swarm. The arrangement conserves energy for individuals which has to be sacrificed by anyone who breaks away and becomes a breakaway leader. That provides for numerous tactics and team work.

As we watched, the process looked as if the one-time leader was caught and somehow then trick-cycled backwards through the swarming riders making up the peloton.

A few years ago, Paul Hochman wrote a brilliant journalistic description of how it all works:

Nothing in [American] sports resembles the bizarre dynamic of the cycling peloton, partly because a stage race is less a sporting event than a commodities exchange on wheels. What appears to be a random mass of bicycles is really an orderly, complex web of shifting alliances, crossed with brutal competition, designed to keep or acquire the market’s most valued currency: energy.
Amassing it (i.e., letting as little of it as possible drain away) is the only way for a racer to survive the brutal physical strain of a Tour de France, the metabolic equivalent of running 21 marathons in 23 days. Bikers save energy by riding together in a massive slipstream. Those who save the most energy can “buy” various goods – international glory, TV time, a bright yellow jersey, attractive French girls.

But here’s the key: To thrive in the angry little swarm that is the peloton, enemies often have to stick together and make deals with one another. Cooperation across enemy lines is the centerpiece of a winning game plan. It’s a weird concept to those accustomed to the zero-sum, us-them finality of the walk-off home run or the Hail Mary touchdown pass.
Why play nice with someone who might beat you? Racers in the peloton are not pals; they’re enemies without options.

To which it might be worth mentioning that not winning a stage may not be the same as losing one. The gallant front-runners are still doing a good job for their sponsors whose branding they are sustaining. The breakaway will have been worth a lot of prime-time ads.

The golfing front-runner

How about golf? Is there a peloton principle at work? Not quite. Tiger Woods has a fearsome reputation for winning when he does hit the front.

However, there is general principle which is more statistical than psychological at play. It explains why a relatively lowly-ranked golfer can leap into a substantial lead after the first round of a tournament, and why is almost always caught by many of the pursuing group.

Simple stats can test whether there is a random deviation around an average score. Some high and some low scores are the inevitable result of the expected distribution of scores. The stats can reveal if variations are due to a few exceptionally good (and exceptionally bad) players, or may be no more than a statistical effect.

When more data become available in the next round, there will be similar expected distributions of scores. For the front-runner, there is only one direction to move. Down. The result is that the one-time leader appears to be going backwards. Just like the would-be leader in the Tour de France.

Tiger, and Tiger alone for much of the last decade, plays golf in a way which can’t be explained as a random distribution of scores. If Tiger appears in the lead, the greatest of modern players, the rest of the competition, and almost all watchers of the event reach the same conclusion. Tiger is on his way to another win. Tiger’s scores are those of a statistical outlier.

How about Leadership Behaviours outside Sport?

Just a few speculative thoughts. Might the processes of the Peloton and of statistical theory help explain more mysterious phenomena such as momentum (leader going forward) and loss of momentum (leader going backward)?

And what about the tall-poppy syndrome, or the more folksy principle that pride comes before a fall? Might we have some explanations from tales of the Tour and the Tiger?

Much food for thought on the dynamics of leading from the front, the hero-to-zero phenomenon, and maybe even the tall-poppy syndrome.

Image

The brilliant illustration of a peloton in action is from the social networking site Fark. The post also explains the how and why of the flocking process of Geese.


Murray v Federer: A Glimpse of Momentum

March 3, 2008

andy-murray.jpg

Update

Wimbledon 2008. Murray beats Gasquet in the third round [Monday 30th June 2008]. The match had similarities in momentum swing to his victory over Federer in Dubai, earlier in the year

The Original Post

Andy Murray defeats Roger Federer in Round one of the Dubai Tennis Open. I never really understood momentum in sport, but this afternoon I glimpsed how it might be a matter of filling in the dots [Sense making].

I have difficulty with concepts such as motivation, empowerment, and momentum. The terms are used often when no more specific explanation can be offered, in sport as well as in business and politics.

This afternoon [March 3rd 2008] I watched a thrilling tennis match. It was transmitted from Dubai, where Roger Federer was widely expected to confirm his status as World number one. He was playing in the first round against the improving young Scot Andy Murray. Murray indicated in advance that he was likely to learn a lot from the game, which is not the most positive statement ever made before a sporting contest.

The first set lived up to expectations. Murray is a promising but volatile young talent, likely to improve beyond his ranking at present. He kept pace with Federer in the first set, which went into a tie break, with neither player dropping service.

Murray grabbed a lead in the tie-break, then dropped it, and Federer as smooth and cool as ever, won a tightly contested first set.

That’s it, then. Federer to go on to win. He had won twenty five of the last twenty seven matches he’s played at the Dubai tournament. During that first set he played to the high level expected of him, also finding exceptional shots from time to time.

Murray survived the Federer onslaught, and even showed some flashes of improvised brilliance himself. His service has been improving in fits and starts as he made his rapid climb up the rankings over thr last two years. Today his serve was as solid and as powerful as I have ever seen it.

What happened next?

What happened next was very unexpected. The near- immaculate style of Roger Federer began to seem less awesome than usual. His was still finding those brilliant winners. But he was also playing a few shots slightly off-balance, and making unforced errors.

I don’t watch tennis with a notebook to hand for blog posts about sporting leadership. But something rare was taking place here. I found a scrap of paper and scribbled a few notes. Here are the unedited scribbles which began at the start of the second set:

F has changed the way he played. Indication of a drop in intensity. Got to 1:2.
Lost serve for first time. Momentum lost by RF. Murray keeps his cool and wins set.

Momentum now lost by RF. Still a bit down [in intensity]. If it wasn’t Federer [playing] you’d expect M to win now.

Murray gets to 4:2.

Will Murray win? Still not totally sure …

Murray 5:3

RF is out of gas.

Wins his serve to 5:4 but Murray is not going flat out. Willing to take it to his serve.

Wins serve. Wins match. He didn’t get down on himself at points lost, even ‘unlucky’ line calls.

Momentum, intensity, or what?

Here’s what I think. Momentum is difficult to pin down because it is a process not a single event. We may be jolted into awareness by a single surprise event, and quickly ‘fill in the dots’ of other events close in time to the ‘tipping point’, and anticipate what will happen in the near future.

I think the tipping-point for me was a clumsy missed backhand by Federer, accompanied by what I described as a drop in intensity.

I didn’t write it down, but I even formed the impression that the great man was, well, a kilo or so visibly over weight.

That’s the sense made of what I was seeing. If I observed anything that could be corroborated, it was those loose shots, evidence of a Federer not in complete balance and control.

Murray played to his best, and several outstanding points. These were particularly noticeable as he was closing in on the win in the third set.

A tentative conclusion

Andy Murray won a closely contested match in which Federer seemed to lose momentum that he might have been expected to maintain after winning the first set. The result seemed to have come about because a great player had a dip in intensity in his play, and another potentially great player who didn’t.

At the time, spectators make sense of what is happening as if they have figured out the plot in a movie. As the oracle might have put it … ‘And a great man will taste defeat’.

In other words, momentum is a story created in the minds of the observers, based on our ‘filling in the dots’ of what we have observed and remembered.

All this is a lot less exciting than the actual match was. By maybe, just maybe, it offers a clue into that elusive process of momentum.

Acknowledgement

Image of Andy Murray from wikipedia commons