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Randomization and serial dependence in professional tennis matches: Do strategic considerations, player rankings and match characteristics matter?

Leonidas Spiliopoulos

Judgment and Decision Making, 2018, vol. 13, issue 5, 413-427

Abstract: In many sports contests, the equilibrium requires players to randomize across repeated rounds, i.e., exhibit no temporal predictability. Such sports data present a window into the (in)efficiency of random sequence generation in a natural competitive environment, where the decision makers (tennis players) are both highly experienced and incentivized compared to laboratory studies. I resolve a long-standing debate about whether professional players' tennis serve directions are serially independent (Hsu, Huang and Tang, 2007) or not (Walker and Wooders, 2001) using a new dataset that is two orders of magnitude larger than those studies. I examine both between- and within-player determinants of the degree of serial (in)dependence. Evidence of the existence of significant serial dependence across serves is presented, even among players ranked Number 1 in the world. Furthermore, significant heterogeneity was found with respect to the strength of serial dependence and also its sign. A novel finding is that Number 1 and Number 2 ranked players tend to under-alternate on average, whereas in line with previous findings, the lower-ranked the players, the greater their tendency to over-alternate. Within-player analyses show that high-ranked players do not condition their randomization behavior on their opponent's ranking. However, the under-alternation of top players would be consistent with a best-response to beliefs that the population of opponents over-alternates on average. Finally, the degree of observed serial dependence is not systematically related to other match variables proxying for match difficulty, fatigue, and psychological pressure.

Keywords: randomization; mixed strategy Nash equilibrium; minimax; tennis; sports data analytics (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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