Comparing Cousins: A Harmonized Analysis of Racket Sport Set Scores Based on Racketlon World Tour Results

Large-margin wins most common in table tennis

In which racket sport is it most likely to win by a large margin? Is it in squash as the stronger player can pin down the opponent in the back corners? Or in badminton based on safe attacking clear shots? This is a widely debated matter in the racketlon community – and a great questions to answer by data!


Richard Boreham, statistician and rankings officer at the English Racketlon Association, had done an analysis of set scores in the racketlon world tour and showed that table tennis was the sport with the mo st frequent large-margin wins – a result that surprised many racketlon players. A likely explanation is that a strong table tennis player can really do some spin damage. Good serves and some safe chopping goes a long way it seems. Tennis on the other hand is the sport where big wins are the hardest to achieve. I found his work and we decided to submit to a sports conference.

Bars show the points scored by the loser in the four racket sports: table tennis, badminton, squash, and tennis.

We complemented Richard’s initial work with an analysis of in which racket sport the set scores varies the most among racketlon players. We compared matches between evenly skilled players, and again table tennis stood out. Interestingly enough, we show that while the set score variance in badminton and squash decreases as the levels of the competing players increase, the opposite goes for table tennis. The set scores for stronger table tennis players varies more than for weaker players. It appears stronger players accept higher risks – probably weaker players do not even have the option to go for winners.

Set score variance in the four racket sports. Better players to the left in the plots. Note that the amount of data available for tennis is limited.
Markus Borg and Richard Boreham, Presented at the 1st World Conference on the Science of Net and Wall Games, Szombathely, Hungary, 2015. (slides)

Extended Abstract

While tennis, table tennis, badminton, and squash have several characteristics in common, they all have different scoring systems. Due to the different scoring systems, direct comparisons of match scores across racket sport have not yet been possible. Instead, comparative studies between racket sports have so far required scaling of match scores to a common format. However, such rescaling does not capture the mental aspects of different scoring systems, e.g., how the hierarchical scoring in tennis influences players differently as compared to the point-a-rally scoring of squash. In 2015, the English Racketlon Association introduced a new ranking system based on a ratings system, i.e., a player's ranking depends on the individual performance in each match played. Moreover, as the rules of racketlon harmonizes the scoring systems of the racket sports, and the UK ranking system is based on match results from more than a year of international racketlon tournaments, a unique comparison of set scores across racket sports is now possible. We present an initial analysis of how set scores compare for different racket sports when the harmonized scoring system of racketlon is used. Our analysis shows that table tennis is the sport in which big wins are most likely. Furthermore, we report that while the variance in badminton and squash set scores decreases for better players, the opposite applies to table tennis matches. Our comparative study provides a novel perspective on set scores in competitive matches in the world's four major racket sports, and our findings reveal that table tennis is particularly different. Future work should explore a larger set of match results, but our insights might already be used to inspire future match tactics and training regimes in racket sports.