A friend recently lent me English cricketer-turned-writer Ed Smith’s wildly interesting 2008 book What sport tells us about life . You don’t need to follow sport very closely, and I don’t follow sport very closely, to absorb the nuggets of wisdom Smith has to offer.

Does a sport have a natural home, or is it a nomadic child-of-the-universe? Is there a streak of madness, like in great artists, in sporting heroes as well? What are the chances that soccer clubs can find another Sir Alex? But what’s been a revelation to me is the use of statistics in defining sporting probabilities. Given my own clumsiness with it, I don’t think I’ve ever really understood sport, and never imagined it can be defined with arithmetic. So Smith’s book is, for me, a sort of Freakonomics on the sporting world. Obviously, there are plenty of references to Moneyball and the strategy on baseball batting averages. But there are also stats here that measure the inevitable onward march of human sporting prowess and how the entry of the free market in American football proved all sorts of received wisdom and experts wrong.

Quite by chance, I found a related article in a math and stats magazine this morning. In September 2011, Gregory Matthews explained in Significance how he totalled up ATP ranking points for the top 100 players on the tennis circuit and plotted the top eight from 2009-11. This was done during, and mostly because of, Novak Djokovic’s spectacular show that year. 2011 had been his super season – he won practically every major/minor tournament he played and peaked with the No. 1 ranking. You’ll find his rise plotted in a simple enough trend graph which you should >check out here .

But a more insightful reading of the graph is when Matthews points to an ATP points trajectory that, after accounting for a certain lag, was almost mimicking Djokovic’s. The short article, titled Djokovic’s rise and Murray’s hope, ended with Matthews reassuring British fans of Andy Murray’s victory at Wimbledon the following year.

A season late yes, but Murray’s gotten there. The numbers knew he would before we did.