Podcast Episode 96: Author Dave Seminara in the Footsteps of Roger Federer

Episode 96 of the Tennis Abstract Podcast welcomes Dave Seminara, author of the entertaining new book Footsteps of Federer: A Fan’s Pilgrimage Across 7 Swiss Cantons in 10 Acts, which comes out next week. Dave is also the author of two previous travel books, and another one, Mad Travelers: A Tale of Wanderlust, Greed and the Quest to Reach the Ends of the Earth, due out this summer.

We talk about how Roger Federer is typically Swiss (and how he is not), how his Swiss admirers differ from his legions of fans elsewhere around the world, and how Switzerland’s network of small-town clubs sets the country apart. Federer fans will definitely learn some new things about their hero thanks to Dave’s digging.

He also shares the stories behind some of his quests to track down sources for his tennis articles–it turns out that finding a 60-year-old Togolese Davis Cupper can be just as tricky as getting Federer to open up about his past, and it was a close-run thing to place an article about a 643-shot rally in the New York Times on its 25th anniversary.

As fellow travel buffs, we venture into that territory as well, talking about tactics for budget travel in Switzerland, how Switzerland compares to Norway, and just how far some people will go to check a rare destination off their list.

Thanks for listening!

(Note: this week’s episode is about 68 minutes long; in some browsers the audio player may display a different length. Sorry about that!)

Click to listen, subscribe on iTunes, or use our feed to get updates on your favorite podcast software.

Podcast housekeeping:

  • In case you haven’t heard, I’m 23 episodes into a short (~4 minutes) daily podcast called Expected Points. Here’s today’s episode.
  • The TAP book club will reconvene next week with our next selection, John Updike’s 1968 novel, Couples. Read along with us, share your thoughts, and suggest topics/questions/comments for our discussion in a future episode.

Podcast Episode 95: Joe Posnanski on Djokovic, Osaka, and Tennis Greatness

Episode 95 of the Tennis Abstract Podcast welcomes Joe Posnanski, senior writer at The Athletic and author of several books, including The Soul of Baseball, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini, and the forthcoming Baseball 100. Joe is a long-time tennis player and fan who has often written about tennis.

Joe and I cover a lot of ground in 75 minutes, starting with a discussion of Djokovic’s and Osaka’s wins at the Australian Open. He talks about what might be stopping the younger generation of men from dethroning Djokovic and Nadal, why Naomi Osaka is different, how much credit to give to coaches, and whether the outstanding crop of young American women is underreported. Joe also shares his thoughts about how to compare players across eras, whether we ought to pay more attention to the amateur era, and what he’d write about if he could spend more time writing about tennis.

Thanks for listening!

(Note: this week’s episode is about 75 minutes long; in some browsers the audio player may display a different length. Sorry about that!)

Click to listen, subscribe on iTunes, or use our feed to get updates on your favorite podcast software.

Podcast housekeeping:

  • In case you haven’t heard, I’m 20 episodes into a short (~4 minutes) daily podcast called Expected Points. Here’s today’s episode.
  • The TAP book club will reconvene next week with our next selection, John Updike’s 1968 novel, Couples. Read along with us, share your thoughts, and suggest topics/questions/comments for our discussion in a future episode.

Podcast Episode 94: Injury Management, and How Much It Matters In Modern Tennis

Episode 94 of the Tennis Abstract Podcast, with Carl Bialik, of the Thirty Love podcast, is all about injuries.

Carl and I use the fitness sagas of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal as a springboard to talk about injury management–the way in which players handle constant nagging injuries, whether that means adapting their tactics, changing their pace, rearranging their schedule, or just plain suffering. We also wonder how much undisclosed injury and fatigue affects match results, or if commentators focus too much on questions of physical readiness at the expense of talking about the tennis itself.

Thanks for listening!

In housekeeping notes:

  • If you’re not already listening to Expected Points, my 3- or 4-minute daily podcast covering the latest numbers in tennis, you should be. Click for today’s.
  • The TAP book club will reconvene in a few weeks with our next selection, John Updike’s 1968 novel, Couples. Read along with us, tell us what you think, and suggest topics/questions/comments for our discussion in a future episode.
  • Fans of the TA podcast will also want to check out Dangerous Exponents, Carl’s and my Covid-19 podcast. Later today, we’re releasing a new episode about hygiene theater and Covid absolutism, in which we talk a lot about measures that have long been known to be effective, but are frustratingly absent from most official recommendations and public discussion.

(Note: this week’s episode is about 49 minutes long; in some browsers the audio player may display a different length. Sorry about that!)

Click to listen, subscribe on iTunes, or use our feed to get updates on your favorite podcast software.

Podcast Episode 93: ESPN’s Bill Connelly on What Novak Djokovic Does Better

Episode 93 of the Tennis Abstract Podcast welcomes Bill Connelly, who wrote about Novak Djokovic this week at ESPN. You might know Bill from his coverage of soccer and college football, including his two books, Study Hall and The 50 Best* College Football Teams of All Time.

Bill, who dug into Match Charting Project data for his piece, explains how Djokovic tactically differs from the competition, how his game has changed over the years, and whether the nature of his game makes it tough to fully appreciate. I also encourage him to speculate about whether Novak will reach 20 slams, and if that would make him the greatest of all time.

Also on the agenda: whether tour-wide parity is better than dominance, how ESPN (and tennis media in general) could cover the sport differently, and why there are so few people who love both tennis and college football.

Thanks for listening!

(Note: this week’s episode is about 48 minutes long; in some browsers the audio player may display a different length. Sorry about that!

Click to listen, subscribe on iTunes, or use our feed to get updates on your favorite podcast software.

Podcast housekeeping:

  • In case you haven’t heard, I’m now doing a short (~4 minutes) daily podcast called Expected Points. Here’s today’s episode.
  • The TAP book club will reconvene in a few weeks with our next selection, John Updike’s 1968 novel, Couples. Read along with us, share your thoughts, and suggest topics/questions/comments for our discussion in a future episode.
  • Fans of the TA podcast will also want to check out Dangerous Exponents, Carl’s and my Covid-19 podcast. This week, we talked about the Russian, Chinese, and Indian vaccines.

New Mini-Podcast! Expected Points, Feb. 3

I’m trying something new: A short, daily(!?) podcast to keep you up to date with the tennis world. Patterned after the Numbers by Barron’s finance podcast, Expected Points highlights three numbers to illustrate stats, trends, and interesting trivia around the sport. Today’s pilot episode is under four minutes long, and I’ll aim to keep each installment around this length.

Joining me for the inaugural episode is Carl Bialik of the Thirty Love podcast. Given the short duration, this will probably be a solo podcast most of the time, but I look forward to including other voices as time and logistics permit.

Today’s episode features Carlos Alcaraz, superstars falling early in the women’s tournaments, and the imminent return of Roger Federer.

Expected Points isn’t yet on iTunes … or anywhere else, for that matter. It will be soon. In the meantime, you can listen right here using the player below:

Please let me know what you think–format, content, whatever. I’ve opened up comments on this post so you can respond, and you may also send comments my way on Twitter.

(Don’t worry, the long-form Tennis Abstract Podcast isn’t going anywhere–we’ll continue with our sporadic schedule throughout the year.)

Podcast Episode 92: Natural Experiments and Second-Order Pandemic Effects

Episode 92 of the Tennis Abstract Podcast, with Carl Bialik, of the Thirty Love podcast, addresses the opportunity generated by the Covid-19 pandemic to study natural experiments in sports.

Many of the things we used to take for granted–stadiums full of fans, weekly travel schedules, consistent training opportunities–have been disrupted for some or all players, in tennis and other major sports. We consider what we can learn about home-court advantage, the predictability of results, the role of unchanging venues, and even the speed of play, by comparing pre-pandemic numbers with their corresponding figures since sports got back underway. We also wonder about the limitations of these sorts of studies, because there are always confounding variables. The biggest confounder of all: the pandemic itself.

I’ve been writing about these issues occasionally. Click for my posts on the predictability of match results, the effect of an empty stadium on serves, and the pace of play with no fans, no towelkids, and no linespeople.

Thanks for listening!

In housekeeping notes:

  • The TAP book club will reconvene in four weeks or so with our next selection, John Updike’s 1968 novel, Couples. Read along with us, tell us what you think, and suggest topics/questions/comments for our discussion in a future episode.
  • Fans of the TA podcast will also want to check out Dangerous Exponents, Carl’s and my Covid-19 podcast. Later today, we’re releasing a new episode about masks–the science behind wearing them, the ways researchers study their benefits, how they stack up against other public health interventions, and much more.

(Note: this week’s episode is about 51 minutes long; in some browsers the audio player may display a different length. Sorry about that! Also, I refer to this episode as episode 91, because for a numbers guy, I’m pretty bad at counting.)

Click to listen, subscribe on iTunes, or use our feed to get updates on your favorite podcast software.

Podcast Episode 91: Book Club: A Handful of Summers by Gordon Forbes

Episode 91 of the Tennis Abstract Podcast, with Carl Bialik, of the Thirty Love podcast, recaps the first installment of our book club, on A Handful of Summers by Gordon Forbes.

Forbes’s book, first published in 1978, is a well-regarded memoir of 1950s and 1960s amateur tennis, and a timely read, as the South African died last month, aged 86. Carl and I talk about what we learned about pre-Open Era tennis, what set Rod Laver apart from his peers, how Forbes stacked up as a player, and whether the lifestyles of amateur and pro players were really so different. We also address the tricky subject of how to read a memoir with very of-the-time attitudes toward women, barely an acknowledgement of apartheid, and a 2017 prologue that has nothing to say about either issue. Despite those reservations, there’s much in the book to appreciate.

The TAP book club will reconvene in about one month with our next pick, John Updike’s 1968 novel, Couples. While the book is about much more than tennis, novelist Benjamin Markovits (a Thirty Love guest) gave it a place on his list of favorite tennis books.

Fans of the TA podcast will also want to check out Dangerous Exponents, the new Covid-19 podcast that Carl and I are doing. Later today, we’re releasing our 10th episode, about the tradeoffs faced by hospitals and policymakers between minimizing deaths and optimizing for other health-related outcomes.

(Note: this week’s episode is about 48 minutes long; in some browsers the audio player may display a different length. Sorry about that!)

Click to listen, subscribe on iTunes, or use our feed to get updates on your favorite podcast software.

Podcast Episode 90: Joshua Robinson on Global Sports (and Tennis) in a Tough Pandemic Year

In Episode 90 of the Tennis Abstract Podcast, Jeff and Carl welcome Joshua Robinson (@joshrobinson23), European sports reporter for the Wall Street Journal and co-author of the book The Club: How the English Premier League Became the Wildest, Richest, Most Disruptive Force in Sports. Josh first joined me for an episode about 17 years ago, back in December 2019, and it’s great to get another round of his insights. If you haven’t read his book, I highly recommend it, even if you’re not a soccer fan.

In this episode, we run the gamut of Covid-in-sports topics, including the fate of the 2020/21 Tokyo Olympics, the outlook for athletes who want to jump the vaccine queue, the miraculously completed Tour de France, how Wimbledon’s response to the pandemic might have been the best of all, and what to expect in international sports once vaccines are widely available. Josh has written about most of these subjects, and I encourage you to browse his archives at the WSJ website.

We also touch on a few non-Covid questions, like what Slovenian sports can teach the rest of the world, and the role of the underhand serve. We close with a few words about our late friend and colleague, Tom Perrotta.

Thanks for listening!

Also, one last reminder: Next week we’ll be talking about our first book club pick, A Handful of Summers by Gordon Forbes. Let us know if you have thoughts about the book, questions for us to discuss on the show, or suggestions for future book club selections.

Fans of the TA podcast will also want to check out Dangerous Exponents, the new Covid-19 podcast that Carl and I are doing. Today we released episode 8, about issues with the global vaccine rollout.

(Note: this week’s episode is about 59 minutes long; in some browsers the audio player may display a different length. Sorry about that!)

Click to listen, subscribe on iTunes, or use our feed to get updates on your favorite podcast software.

Podcast Episode 89: Rebuilding the History of Women’s Tennis

Episode 89 of the Tennis Abstract Podcast reverses roles, with Carl Bialik, of the Thirty Love podcast, interviewing Jeff about his recent efforts to add pre-Open Era women’s tennis data to Tennis Abstract.

High-level tennis did not begin in 1968 with the introduction of Open tennis, but official statistical records often give the mistaken impression that it did. We talk about the existing state of the data, the players whose reputations rest heavily on pre-Open Era accomplishments, and the value of simply getting historical records into an accessible format. We also cover two very different #1s, Althea Gibson and Margaret Court, and dip into what people get right and wrong in the Serena-vs-Court debate.

You can read a lot more about the new data here at the blog–yesterday I posted about the 1963 season, and you can also check out a one-page portal to that year’s data here.

Also, a reminder: In a couple of weeks we’ll be talking about our first book club pick, A Handful of Summers by Gordon Forbes. Let us know if you have thoughts about the book, questions for us to discuss on the show, or suggestions for future book club selections.

Fans of the TA podcast will also want to check out Dangerous Exponents, the new Covid-19 podcast that Carl and I are doing. We released episode 7, about mutations and the vaccine rollout, today.

(Note: this week’s episode is about 50 minutes long; in some browsers the audio player may display a different length. Sorry about that!)

Click to listen, subscribe on iTunes, or use our feed to get updates on your favorite podcast software.

Dangerous Exponents: A Covid-19 Podcast

Pardon the non-tennis interruption!

Carl Bialik and I–the duo that has brought you the Tennis Abstract podcast–are five episodes into a new show, Dangerous Exponents: A Covid-19 Podcast. We’re attempting to bring our usual analytical approach to issues related to the pandemic, while acknowledging that we’re not doctors, epidemiologists, or anything except for inquiring minds with a penchant for research and some skill at separating valuable research from the rest.

Our most recent episode is on herd immunity: Is there really such a thing, how do we get there, and how will we know we have? Previously, we covered the question of holiday gatherings; the role of exponents R0, Rt, and K; the latest on vaccines; and the trade-offs involved in keeping schools open. Each installment runs approximately 45 minutes.

You can find the episodes and subscribe in all the usual spots, such as iTunes and player.fm.

As we develop this new podcast, we’d love your feedback. If you’ve listened to one of our previous episodes, or after you listen to the new one, please take a moment and answer a few questions to help us hone our efforts.

Thanks for listening!