Category Archives: Books

Bernoulli and Court Tennis

As if you needed more proof that there’s nothing new under the sun.

Most of us are fairly new to the mathematical study of tennis.  It turns out that probabilistic analysis of tennis goes back almost as far as probability theory itself, to Jacob Bernoulli, a Swiss mathematician best known for the Law of Large Numbers.

In the late 17th century, Bernoulli wrote a Letter to a Friend on Sets in Court Tennis.  I haven’t given it a thorough reading yet, but for now, I have to share a line that ought to be the epigram to just about every work of statistical analysis in sport:

You cannot conceive, as you say, that one could measure the strengths of players with numbers, much less that one could draw from these numbers all the conclusions I have drawn.

Bernoulli was born, taught, and died in Basel, which must be why tennis is still so popular there today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, History