by Ken Pomeroy on Monday, June 28, 2010
There have been a few write-ups on the Isner/Mahut marathon tennis match already. Most notably this one by Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal. None have addressed the core issue - was this a conspiracy just so John Isner could appear on Letterman?
Unfortunately, tennis stats are not sophisticated enough to do a proper investigation. Given the extremely limited data provided by Wimbledon, about the most interesting thing to do with the marathon fifth set is to replay it point-by-point using the return percentages of each player in the fifth set.
In the fifth set, Mahut was able to successfully win 23% of points while returning serve, compared to 19% for Isner. I replayed the fifth set one million times given these low return rates in order to see just how unlikely it was to get to 138 games. The results suggest the length of the…