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 2014-06-21 
With World Cup fever taking over, you may have forgotten that Wimbledon is just a few days away.

Tennis scoring

Tennis matches are split into sets (three sets for ladies' matches, five sets for men's), which are in turn split into games. The players take it in turns to serve for a game. The scoring in a game is probably best explained with a flowchart (click to enlarge):
To win a set, a player must win at least six games and two more games than their opponent. If the score reaches six games all, then a tie break is played. In this tie break, the first player to win at least seven points and two points more than their opponent wins. In the final set there is no tie break, so matches can last a long time.

Winning with the smallest share of points

Due to the way tennis is split into sets and games, the player who wins the most points will not necessarily win the match. This got me thinking: what is the smallest proportion of points which can be won while still winning the tennis match?
First, let's consider a men's match. In order to win with the lowest proportion of points, our player should let his opponent win two sets without winning a point and win the other three sets. In the two lost sets, the opponent should win 0-6 taking every point: in total the opponent will win 48 points in these sets.
Leaving the final set for now, the other two sets are won by our player. To win these with the smallest proportion of the points, they should be won 7-6 on a tie break. In the 6 lost games, the opponent should take all the points. In the won games and the tie break, our player should win by two points with the lowest total score. (Winning with more than the lowest total score will mean both players win an equal number of extra points, moving the proportion of points our player wins closer to 50%, higher than it needs to be.)
Therefore, our player will win 4 points out of 6 in the games he wins, win 0 out of 4 points in the games he loses and wins the tie break 7 points to 5. This means that in total our player will 62 points out of 144 in the two won sets.
For the same reason as above, the final set should be won with the lowest total score: 6-4. Using the same scores for each game, our player wins 24 points out of 52.
Overall, our player has won 86 points out of 244, a mere 35% of the points.
If the match is a ladies' match then the same analysis will work, but with each player winning one less set. This gives our player 55 points out of 148, 37% of the points.
This result demonstrates why tennis remains exciting through the whole match. The way tennis is split into sets and games means that our opponent can win 65% of the points but if the pressure gets to them at the most important points, our player can still win the match. This makes for a far more interesting competition than a simple race to one hundred points which could quickly become a foregone conclusion.

Comparing players with serving stats

During tennis matches, players are often compared using statistics such as the percentages of serves which are successful. Imagine a match between Player A and Player B.
In the first set, Player A and Player B are successful with 100% and 92% of their serves respectively. In the second set, these figures are 56% and 48%. Player A clearly looks to be the better server, as they have a higher percentage in each set. However if we look at the two sets in more detail:
Player APlayer B
First Set20/2067/73
Second Set45/8013/27
Total65/10080/100
Table showing successful serves/total serves.
Overall, Player B has an 80% serve success rate, while Player A only manages 65%.
This is an example of Simpson's paradox: a trend which appears in the set-by-set data disappears when the data is combined. This occurs because when we look at the set-by-set percentages, the total number of serves is not taken into account: Player A served more in the second set so their overall percentage will be closer to 56%; Player B served more in the first set so their overall percentage will be closer to 92%.
Tags: sport, tennis, news

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 2014-05-26 
With the FIFA World Cup approaching, sticker fans across the world are filling up their official Panini sticker books. This got me wondering: how many stickers should I expect to need to buy to complete my album? And how much will this cost?

How many stickers?

There are 640 stickers required to fill the album. The last 100 stickers required can be ordered from the Panini website.
After \(n\) stickers have been stuck into the album, the probability of the next sticker being the next new sticker is:
$$\frac{640-n}{640}$$
The probability that the sticker after next is the next new sticker is:
$$\frac{n}{640}\frac{640-n}{640}$$
The probability that the sticker after that is the next new sticker is:
$$\left(\frac{n}{640}\right)^2\frac{640-n}{640}$$
Following this pattern, we find that the expected number of stickers bought to find a new sticker is:
$$\sum_{i=1}^{\infty}i \left(\frac{640-n}{640}\right) \left(\frac{n}{640}\right)^i = \frac{640}{640-n}$$
Therefore, to get all 640 stickers, I should expect to buy:
$$\sum_{n=0}^{639}\frac{640}{640-n} = 4505 \mbox{ stickers.}$$
Or, if the last 100 stickers needed are ordered:
$$\sum_{n=0}^{539}\frac{640}{640-n} + 100 = 1285 \mbox{ stickers.}$$

How much?

The first 21 stickers come with the album for £1.99. Additional stickers can be bought in packs of 5 for 50p or multipacks of 30 for £2.75. To complete the album, 100 stickers can be bought for 25p each.
If I decided to complete my album without ordering the final stickers, I should expect to buy 4505 stickers. After the 21 which come with the album, I will need to buy 4484 stickers: just under 897 packs. These packs would cost £411.25 (149 multipacks and 3 single packs), giving a total cost of £413.24 for the completed album.
I'm not sure if I have a spare £413.24 lying around, so hopefully I can reduce the cost of the album by buying the last 100 stickers for £25. This would mean that once I've received the first 21 stickers with the album, I will need to buy 1164 stickers, or 233 packs. These packs would cost £107 (38 multipacks and 5 single packs), giving a total cost of £133.99 for the completed album, significantly less than if I decided not to buy the last stickers.

How many should I order?

The further reduce the number of stickers bought, I could get a friend to also order 100 stickers for me and so buy the last 200 stickers for 25p each. With enough friends the whole album could be filled this way, although as the stickers are more expensive than when bought in packs, this would not be the cheapest way.
If the last 219 or 250 stickers are bought for 25p each, then I should expect to spend £117.74 in total on the album. If I buy any other number of stickers at the end, the expected spend will be higher.
Fortunately, as you will be able to swap your duplicate stickers with your friends, the cost of a full album should turn out to be significantly lower than this. Although if saving money is your aim, then perhaps the Panini World Cup 2014 Sticker Book game would be a better alternative to a real sticker book.

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