Saturday, July 4, 2009

Tennis, anyone?


Timothy Gowers

Timothy Gowers is a mathematician educated at Eton College and Cambridge University, who writes a fascinating blog, Gowers's Weblog, as well as currently being Rouse Ball Professor at Cambridge. While his blog is aimed at mathematicians, anyone can read it and comment and it's highly recommended.

Wimbledon, England

Today he is writing about the mathematics of tennis, in a post called "A mathematician watches tennis." He takes his study a lot farther than you would ever imagine mathematics could take tennis.

It's worth reading just in case a few hot tennis tips might give your game an edge. Even for the armchair spectator, it's fun to exercise your mathematical potential and possibly attempt someday to have a thoughtful conversation about tennis, or at least ponder the advantage of first serve or second. Isn't that a question you've always burned to understand?

I love his elegant turn of phrase, like

"After all, the best strategy cannot be anything other than to maximize the probability that you win the point, so if it ever makes sense to serve a reasonably powerful second serve and risk serving a double fault, then it makes sense even if you are match point down"

and

"It makes my head spin like the ball on a heavily sliced second serve"

Whew! He seems to have covered all the bases oops! courts. He even points out psychological and physical challenges to winning.

Finally, after wading through the math, in his words he claims his advice is impractical:

One final remark: I do not for one moment think that anything in this post, even when fully developed, would be of the slightest use to a tennis player. I just thought I'd better make that clear.

Apropos Wimbledon championships currently playing, it's interesting to read new highbrow work about such an old and simple game.

Timothy Gowers' The Princeton Companion to Mathematics and Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction make fascinating reading.

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