When I read Joe Marshall’s insights about doubles tennis, I realize how little I know and think about this team game. Here is yet another example of why Joe wins so consistently when he plays. Of course it helps enormously that he is good enough to execute what his brain thinks of doing. Much of the time, I am just trying to get the damn ball back over the net and in the court. But maybe someday…

If anyone saw the movie “Moneyball,” with Brad Pitt, you heard the name of Bill James, a man who was working as a security guard in the 1970′s, when he started writing very clever analyses of baseball statistics. He was part of a grass roots movement of stat-head baseball fans, known as SABRmetricians (SABR stands for Society of American Baseball Research), who began to realize that all kinds of “set-in-stone” notions about baseball productivity and statistical analysis were just plain wrong. Bill was probably the most engaging writer of the group, and got published, so his ideas began to spread. George Will spoke of them in his baseball book, MEN AT WORK in the early 90′s.

It took almost 30 years before Bill was hired by a club (the Red Sox), to help decide who were the most productive players available in winter trades, and how the team could be best configured to maximize success on the field. He was instrumental in helping the Sox kill the Curse of the Bambino, and win its first World Championship since 1918 in the middle of the first decade of this century.

Bill wrote early on that in all areas of life, sloppy thinking can get ingrained, and truisms which are not true can proliferate. I think there are some of these things going on in tennis, and I will mention one today that may interest the tennis fan, or the fan of clear thinking.

The first came up in our match yesterday……IN doubles, if all else is equal, on which court should the stronger player play defense, the AD or the DEUCE?

Conventional wisdom has it that the stronger player should play the AD court because this is where all the “Important points” are played (the game points and the break points they mean, I guess). I strongly disagree. The more consistent, stronger player, especially the one with the more consistent return of serve, should play the deuce court.

The underlying assumption of the conventional wisdom is wrong…. Read the rest of this entry »

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