Tennis Is All About Probability


If you want to play tactically smart tennis, you need to understand the probability in tennis. Probability tells you what are the chances of an event happening in the future.

One of the reasons why it's sometimes hard to grasp the concept of probability is that each of us strives to live our life in a very controlled manner.

This means that when you go to a store you don't think about the probability of getting a bottle of milk. It's very very likely that the store will have milk in stock.

And when you leave in the morning to go to work it's very very likely that you'll get there even if there is a lot of traffic.

Although ALL the events in life are not 100% sure (except death), we choose and use the ones that are most often so probable that we lose the judgment of reality and probabilty.

Frustrated tennis player
But if you play tennis and decide to hit a winner you may be surprised how few times this event actually happens.

You may not only be surprised but also frustrated, disappointed or even furious.

There is nothing in tennis that you can control except how hard you try.

And if you dig deeper into this subject, you will see that since we cannot control our thinking 100% (can you not think for two minutes?) and we cannot control our emotions (we can partly control how we express them but emotions happen instantly when an event triggers them through our subconscious), we cannot even control how hard we try.

We get distracted, lose concentration, become frustrated and eventually stop giving 100% of our ability.

And in the game of tennis you also cannot control that you will hit the ball in.

You have missed the easiest shots in your life and you have seen top tennis professionals miss easy balls.

This may happen rarely but it does happen and it will continue to happen. Professionals try very hard not to make mistakes, they practice five or six hours per day for 20 years, and yet they cannot control anything in tennis.

They can only improve the probability.

Since you cannot control whether you'll hit the ball in court, you also cannot control whether you'll win this game, set or match.

It's all just a matter of probability.

What you need to do is to try and increase your probability of making the shot, winning the game, set or match.

Probability In Tennis And Other Sports

There are some sports which are similar to tennis in terms of probability and some that are not.

For example, in basketball, when you throw the ball towards the basket, your INTENTION is to score.

Although you may be aware that there is only a certain chance of making the shot (probability) your intention does not include the chances. You are trying to score.

If you have an intention in tennis to score a point, you'll inevitably create problems for yourself. You'll get frustrated very quickly since most of your intentions will not happen.

The main difference is that your opponent reacts to the ball (as opposed to basketball, where the basket does not move or react to your shot) and you have no idea whether your opponent will make an early decision and predict the direction of your shot or he will get there in time but miss or he will get to the ball and hit a lucky net cord and so on.

So when you play a shot you need to think more about how to put your opponent in trouble and let the long term probability determine the outcome of your shots.

Maybe you'll win a point in six out of ten tries of the same type of shot in a very similar situation.

That's probability and that's what you need to focus on.

The only similar situation in a sport like basketball would be that you would throw the ball towards the basket since your teammates are so tall that there is a very high probability they will catch the ball if you miss and will very likely score.

That's an example of your intention counting on the probability of scoring similar to situations in tennis and not actually intending to make the shot.


I've seen tennis players hit an easy sitter with too much risk and not making many points. When I asked them why they were hitting so hard they said it's because they WANT to finish a point.

It's that "WANT" that you need to let go.

You DON'T KNOW when you are going to win the point. You CANNOT know when you are going to win the point.

You can just keep trying and hitting good shots, putting your opponent in difficult situations where the probability of your winning the point is bigger than the probability of your losing the point.

Let go of the outcome and focus on playing good tennis.

The outcome is a consequence and a probability of the level of your and your opponent's tennis.

When you increase the level of your game - your performance - you increase the probability of winning the match.


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