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Cambridge Judge Business School Academic: Tennis Scoring System Boosts Underdog Chances at Wimbledon

CAMBRIDGE, England, June 27, 2018 /PRNewswire/ --

The current tennis scoring system - point-game-set-match rather than total points -improves an underdog's chances at Wimbledon, according to a new scoring model developed by a University of Cambridge academic known globally for climate change modelling. 

The scoring system used in tennis - point-game-set-match rather than total points as in basketball - can significantly improve the chances of an underdog winning a match at the upcoming Wimbledon championships, according to a novel scoring model developed by a University of Cambridge academic known globally for his climate change model.

"Tennis has a weird scoring system," says Chris Hope, Reader in Policy Modelling at Cambridge Judge Business School, in a blog post announcing his findings. "This leads to lots of excitement, as mini-dramas unfold near the end of many games and sets. But it can also lead to unfair results."

Hope, whose PAGE (Policy Analysis for the Greenhouse Effect) model on greenhouse gas emissions has been used extensively by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other official bodies, turned his modelling expertise to tennis in advance of this year's Wimbledon, which begins on Monday 2 July. Hope previously produced a model on top-flight English soccer for a research paper entitled "When should you sack a football manager: Results from a simple model applied to the English Premiership".

"The modelling techniques I use to look at climate change seem to be quite applicable to sports statistics," says Hope, a keen junior tennis player in his youth.

So Hope looked at the difference between a simple points-based tennis scoring model and the current scoring system - focusing on whether a player and the opponent are "good on serve", "moderate on serve", "strong on serve" or "exceptional on serve" (based on Association of Tennis Professionals and Women's Tennis Association statistics).

For both men and women, Hope's model found, the chances of the underdog are boosted most in absolute terms if a player who is strong on serve plays one who is exceptional. For example, a man strong on serve wins 23.3 per cent of his matches against a player exceptional on serve under the current system, but only 15.7 per cent under the simple points-based system; for a woman, these percentages are 26.7 per cent and 23.5 percent. The effect is larger for men because men win on average about 8 per cent more points on serve than women.

In relative terms, the underdog's chances are boosted most (six-fold for men; by half for women) if a player who is moderate on serve plays one who is exceptional - although on the lightning-fast grass courts of Wimbledon a player who is moderate on serve wins matches very rarely against one who is exceptional under either the current scoring system or the simple points-based system.

It's long been known that in 5 per cent of matches on the ATP Tour the loser wins more points than the winner, which can occur when the winner conserves energy in sets or games the player can afford to lose (for example, in a 7-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-4 match).

"That is not what is being investigated here," says Hope, whose model assumes that each player has a given percentage chance of winning a point on serve that remains constant throughout the match, with each match simulated 100,000 times so the model's winning-percentage tables are highly unlikely to be more than 0.2 per cent wrong at worst.

Hope's model is based on comparing results under the current scoring system to a system in which the players take turns to serve six times (like an "over" in cricket), up to 25 times for men and 15 times for women - with the total points then added up.

"The excitement that the current scoring system brings, and the advantage it gives to the underdog, might not be a bad thing given the dominance of certain players, men and women, at the top levels of tennis," says Hope. "In fact, other sports could probably learn from tennis and its scoring system - including basketball, which is sometimes boring, and cricket, which seems to be on a perpetual search for a livelier format.

"I don't think for a minute that these findings are going to change the current scoring system for tennis. But as a professional modeller, I think it's useful for people to understand how unfair the scoring system potentially can be."

TABLES for Chris Hope's tennis blog post: 

Men good on serve strong on serve exceptional on serve Win (%) actual points gain actual points gain actual points gain moderate on serve 21.3 18.2 3.1 6.3 3.2 3.1 1.3 0.2 1 good on serve 22.6 17.3 5.3 7.1 2.5 4.6 strong on serve 23.3 15.7 7.7 Women good on serve strong on serve exceptional on serve Win (%) actual points gain actual points gain actual points gain moderate on serve 25.5 24.9 0.6 9.5 8.6 1 2.8 1.9 0.9 good on serve 25.6 24.3 1.3 10.3 8 2.3 strong on serve 26.7 23.5 3.2

Win % on serve      men   women 

moderate           62.5   55.0 

good               67.5   60.0 

strong             72.5   65.0 

exceptional        77.5   70.0 


About Cambridge Judge Business School 

Cambridge Judge Business School leverages the power of academia for real-world impact to transform individuals, organisations and society.

Since 1990, Cambridge Judge has forged a reputation as a centre of rigorous thinking and high-impact transformative education, situated within one of the world's most prestigious research universities, and in the heart of the Cambridge Cluster, the most successful technology entrepreneurship cluster in Europe. The School works with every student and partner or client organisation at a deep level, identifying important problems and questions, challenging and coaching people to find answers, and creating new knowledge.

Cambridge Judge pursues innovation through inter-disciplinary insight, entrepreneurial spirit and collaboration. Cutting edge research is rooted in real-world challenges and students and clients are encouraged to ask excellent questions to create real-world change. Undergraduate, graduate and executive programmes attract innovators, creative thinkers, thoughtful and collaborative problem-solvers, and current and future leaders, drawn from a huge diversity of backgrounds and countries.