One In A Million: Reflections On Real Tennis At The End Of My First Calendar Year, 25 December 2016

With thanks to Toni Friend for the picture, taken during the famous match between MCC and the visiting Australians in September 2016

I took some real tennis lessons in January 2016 and started playing tentatively in March, perhaps in earnest since April when I started playing twice a week.

I wrote a reflective piece with links on my first six months or so of real tennis in July – click here for that piece. For a cursory explanation of the game and links to sites that explain it well, I commend that July piece as a useful starting point.

This end of year piece builds on that July piece and reflects on my whole first calendar year playing this intriguing game, including some astonishing statistics.


August to December 2016 News Update And Ogblog Links

Strangely, just a week after writing my July 2016 reflective piece, I was selected to play my first competitive match for the MCC, against a party of visiting Australians in September.

I had in any case decided to have a few more lessons in August, once I had played about 50 competitive hours on court.

I also spent some time in Manchester in September, getting a chance to play a couple of times and have a lesson at the Manchester Real Tennis Club in Salford, which I enjoyed enormously.

Here are some links to pieces I wrote August through October – please note that the pieces might not be exclusively about real tennis:

You might observe that I was having a great time playing real tennis during those months, but there was one small problem. Between early July and late October my handicap signally failed to come down; it simply hovered around the rather inauspicious mark of 67.3 – better than my early mark in the mid-seventies, but certainly not the steady improvement towards 60 and beyond that I had been hoping for.

Apparently, this tendency to plateau at times is quite normal, although I think my first plateau was a little lowly and lengthy for someone of my age and stage.

Anyway, I got a good win the afternoon after the House of Lords (27 October – see the last link in the above list of links) and since then the progress has been relentless for a couple of months, ending the year at a more impressive 64.1 – still a long way to go but definitely back on the improvement curve.

Winning team: David, Tony Friend and me.

My progress was assisted (psychologically only, there’s no direct impact on the handicap) by an unexpected win in a skills tournament in early November – click here for a link to a write up of that one.

I did also play one more tournament this year, against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club, mentioned en passant in an Ogblog piece – click here.


Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Real tennis is quite a good game for a stats geek – not least because the real tennis on-line system is full of stats and tools through which you can measure yourself and weigh up your opponents. Not that I am even faintly at the stage (if indeed I ever shall be) that such tools would do much for me personally.

Still, for those who might be interested, here is an extract from the system (I have suitably redacted my opponents’ names) showing all of the handicap-contributing matches I have played so far in my so-called career – click here.

Digging deeper into the system, I can see how I have got on against each opponent and how those opponents have got on against other opponents – hours of fun to be had if/when I can be bothered.

However, one set of general stats has caught my eye, as this real tennis on-line system, including the handicapping, is used by every real tennis club in the world. I can see my handicap against pools of other players on various measures.

For example, if I look at my handicap compared with the current handicap of everyone who has ever had their handicap recorded on the system (about 15 years worth of data), I am ranked around 6,300 out of the 10,300 or so people who have ever been ranked.  That puts me somewhere around the 62nd percentile. Not bad for a beginner.

To be more accurate for playing purposes, it is probably better to restrict my search to active players – i.e. everyone who has played in the last year. On that basis, I am around the 3,000 mark out of 4,100 or so people who have played in 2016. That is around the 74th percentile or “bottom of the third quartile” mark. Still not too bad for a beginner.

But returning to the larger data set, I am intrigued by this 6,300 figure. Because that really is close to the sum total of people on the planet who could possibly stand a chance of beating me at this game. The game is so unlike other racket sports, it would be virtually impossible for anyone, even an elite sportsperson, to simply pick up a real tennis racket and beat someone who knows how to play, without having a lesson or two and a few goes first.

Given that there are somewhere between 7.4 and 7.5 billion people on the planet right now, that means, approximately speaking, that fewer than one in a million people are better at real tennis than I am.

Think about that statistic for just a moment. If an alien being from another planet were to come to planet earth and select a human being at random to play me at real tennis, there is only a one in a million chance that the other person would win.

I admit that this one-in-a-million stat is not a very useful statistic in practice, of course, but it is a rather awe-inspiring one in theory.

Just look at my technique again in the light of my impressive stats

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