Diving

 

There are two kinds of players, those who dive and those who donít. I donít. I attribute my longevity in this sport to never diving. However, many other players are natural divers and consider it a normal part of the game.

 

There are several problems with diving. (1)  It is very hard on your body and the risk of injury is higher when diving than any other time in a racquetball game. (2) It takes a lot of energy to keep diving and getting up off the floor, so you may run out of gas later in the match. (3)You are frequently out of position after diving and in danger of losing the rally anyway. (4) You have a good chance of getting called for an avoidable hinder if you are on the floor and canít get out of the way.

 

So, why do it? The obvious answer is that it keeps you from immediately losing the rally. But that doesn't mean you will win the rally. More likely it just keeps you in the rally.  Suppose that if you dive there is a 10 percent chance of hitting a winner, a 10 percent chance of skipping or missing the ball, and an 80 percent chance of keeping the ball in play. Now suppose you are serving. If you keep the ball in play, there is a 50 percent chance of winning the point. The value of diving is .8*.5=.4 since the probabilities of hitting winners and losers offset each other. If you are returning serve, you have a ten percent chance of hitting a winner, but that only gets you the serve, where you have a 50 percent chance of a point. You have a ten percent chance of skipping, which loses you a point immediately, and you have an 80 percent chance of keeping the ball in play, yielding a 50 percent chances of getting the serve, which only gets you a 50 percent chance of winning a point as the server. The net result is that if you are returning serve, the dive only gets you .15 of a point. If you are serving half the time in a match, a dive is only worth .275 of a point.


This means that, since the expected payoff is positive, it is perfectly rational to dive. What this does not take into account is the wear and tear on your body. Is approximately one-quarter of a point worth risking injury? 

 

I tracked the 2006 Choice Hotels U.S. Open quarterfinal match between Cliff Swain and Jason Mannino. Jason dived at least once in 32 rallies over three games. (Eight rallies required two dives and three more rallies required three dives.) Of these rallies, he won 14 (44 percent) and lost the other 18. So, if this is typical, there is an approximately 40 percent chance of winning a rally in which you dive.  However, some of the rallies that he won only got him the serve.

 

On the other hand, Jason dived at least once in 12 rallies in the first game and won four of them. That is four points he would have lost if he had done no diving. He won the game 11-8. The four points could have made the difference. In the second game, he won six rallies after diving in 12 rallies. He won that game 13-11. Jason would probably have lost that game if Cliff had taken those six rallies. Jason won the third game 11-2. It seems fairly certain that Jasonís dives were the difference in games one and two.  It is impossible to know for sure what would have happened if Jason didnít do any diving, but the chances are that he would not have won the first two games. Was it worth it to him to dive for a chance to win a quarterfinal match at the U.S. Open?

 

The bottom line is that a dive is worth a little more than a quarter of a point. If you have a comfortable lead in a game, it is probably not worth it to dive. If the game is close, you should probably save your dives for critical times in the game, especially if you are serving.

 

If you are going to dive, you should do it in a way that minimizes the harm to your body while generating the best chance of eventually winning the rally. The first rule of diving is to start low so as to reduce the distance between your body and the floor. So start with a low crouch. Push off with your legs while extending your racquet hand in a jabbing motion. Use your other hand as a shock absorber. Once you hit the ball, just relax as you hit the floor. Then get your feet under you and get up as quickly as possible. Go to center court.

 

The best shot selection is a ceiling ball. Just get your racquet under the ball with the face up and flick it to the ceiling. The ceiling ball gives you the maximum amount of time to get up and allows you free access to center court. Some players can make offensive shots while diving, but they are a rare breed and there is a higher probability of skipping the ball.

 
To see some pros diving, click here.