The fastest sport? Table Tennis VS Badminton

It is often said that Badminton is the fastest sport in the world. A quick search on Google returns hundreds of sources that “certify” this claim. This is an example:

What’s the fastest sport in the world? Tennis? No. Soccer? Baseball? No and no. It’s badminton — in which the birdie, or shuttle, as the pros call it, can travel more than 200 mph.

However, a subtle feature pops out at us from the previous quote: the shuttle is the item travelling faster than anything else in other sports. But, is it really the most appropriate thing to consider when measuring the speed of a certain sport? We don’t think so.

Even if the shuttle speed cannot be reached by a table tennis ball, the dimensions of the playing area, the net height and the playing strategy greatly affect the sport’s speed. Let’s compare the next two videos:

On one hand, the table tennis point starts at a slow pace and accelerates as time passes, increasing the ball speed and frequency until it ends. On the other hand, the badminton point stays at a regular speed most of the time until it suddenly finishes with a strong smash.

In this article, we will go deeper into the matter, doing a thorough analysis on both sports. First of all, we will look at the foundations of table tennis and badminton. Then, we will analyze two example matches to gain some insight into the playing speed. Finally, we will compare the results to determine which of them is the fastest sport in the world.

The foundations

The following images show the basics you should know about the court and materials used in both sports:

court_compare

ballandracket_compare

Both sports have similar rules, which consist basically in hitting the ball/shuttle to the opponent’s side of the table/court. The purpose of this is to make the opponent fail, which may happen because of the net obstacle, the limited size of the playing area or high speed shots that cannot be returned in time.

When hitting the ball/shuttle, there are different kind of strokes that can be used, depending on the intention and/or the position of the player.

Regarding Table Tennis, the following Youtube video from the Olympics Channel shows most of them:

Badminton basic strokes can be observed here:

Now that we know the terminology of both sports, we are ready to start the speed analysis.

The analysis

Let’s measure now the speed of table tennis and badminton. But … how do we define “the speed”?

First of all, in order to compare both sports, we must have a common set of terms:

  • The playing time of a match is the sum of the playing time of all its points.
  • The playing time of a point is the time between the point’s start and the point’s end.
  • A point starts when the ball/shuttle is hit during the service performance.
  • A point ends when:
    • Table tennis: the ball hits the floor, the hitter’s side of the table, the side of the table top or any other object or part of the body that interrupts its trajectory and prevents it from reaching the opponents side of the table. Also, when a player makes any kind of fault.
    • Badminton: the shuttle hits the court out of bounds, the hitter’s side of the court, any player’s body part or a player makes any kind of fault.
  • A hit happens when the ball or the shuttle is hit by any of the players.

Considering this, we can define “the speed” of both sports as:

equation

That is, the ratio between the amount of times the ball/shuttle is hit and the total playing time of the match.

Now we will use a representative match of each sport to get metrics we can use to compare Table Tennis and Badminton regarding their playing speed.

Table Tennis

The match that has been chosen for this analysis is the 2017 ITTF World Tour Platinum Qatar Open Men Singles final between Ma Long and Fan Zhendong, current World #1 and #2. The result of the match was 4-2 (11-8, 11-8, 11-7, 5-11, 6-11, 11-4) for Ma Long.

The following timeline analyzes one random point from the match:

graph

The whole point, since the ball is hit by the server until it hits the floor, lasts for 3.773 seconds. During that time, there are eight strokes, with an average of 0.4 seconds between each of them. Considering the equation we introduced before, the speed for this point is 2.12 hits per second.

The metrics

Now let’s see the key factors that determine the speed of the whole match. First, the rally length of all the points of the match:

hits

There were 104 points, with an average of 4.90 hits per rally. The shortest rally corresponds to a serve fault, which counts as a single shot, while the longest one took 15 strokes to end.

Regarding the timing, the next pie chart shows the total distribution of the match time:

tt_playing_time

The playing time is only 4 minutes and 14 seconds out of the 56 minutes the full match took, accounting for only the 7.61 %. The longest rally lasted for 8.64 seconds, while the shortest one corresponds to the serve fault and lasted 0.55 seconds.

The speed

Now that we have all the metrics we are able to calculate the match speed. With 510 shots and 254.88 seconds of playing time, the analyzed match has a playing speed of:

tt_speed

Badminton

Due to the nature and rules of badminton, doubles matches are more frenetic than singles. Because of that, we have chosen the 2017 All England Open Men’s Doubles final between the World #1 and #2 pairs: Gideon / Sukamuljo (IND) and Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen (CHN). The result of the match was 2-0 (21-19, 21-14) for the Indonesian players.

This timeline analyzes one random point from this match:

graph

The action lasts for 5.206 seconds. During that time, the shuttle is hit twelve times, with an average of about 0.5 seconds between each stroke. Applying the speed equation, the speed for this single point would be 2.30 hits per second.

The metrics

Let’s see now the key factors that determine the speed of the whole match. First, the rally length of all the points of the match:

hits_badminton

The 75 points of the match recorded a minimum rally length of one hit when a serve fault happened, and a maximum of 41, which happened in the very last point. The average rally length was 8.98 hits per rally.

Switching now to the time analysis, we can see how long the public could see some action:

badminton_playing_time

The whole match lasted for 39 minutes and 8 seconds. The playing time was 16.69 % of that, resulting in 6 minutes and 31 seconds. The longest rally of the match took 25.64 seconds, while the shortest only 0.6 seconds.

The speed

Now that we have all the metrics we are able to calculate the match speed. With 674 shots and 391.84 seconds of playing time, the analyzed match has a playing speed of:

badminton_speed

And the fastest sport is…

The analysis we have conducted reveals that Table Tennis is faster than Badminton: the Table Tennis match had a speed of 2.00 hits per second, while the Badminton one reached only 1.72 hits per second. Even if the gender, level of the players, category or competition differ, we now have a brief idea of how close both sports are regarding their playing speed.

As well as that, we can get some interesting insights into both sports. We have realized that there are significant differences between them, as the rally length and playing time ratios differ quite a lot. Badminton has twice as many shots in each rally compared to Table Tennis, having also 1.5x playing time.

Which sport is the most enjoyable then? Table Tennis with its faster rallies or Badminton with its longer, thrilling points? We will not agree on this, that is for sure!

8 comments

  1. Fantastic analysis, do you use any software to delve into metadata?
    I’m also here in Dusseldorf assisting the ITTF with statistics, perhaps we can collaborate.

    Like

  2. I find this to be quite the comical analysis, it doesn’t take much to realize that Table Tennis is the faster of the two sports..

    First and foremost, the stats used in this analysis are nothing short of cherry picking certain statistics to create the article.. The example they used to keep it even close, ZoomTT had to compare a Olympic Badminton Doubles match to Olympic Singles Table Tennis match. Which is pure laziness in my opinion.

    Like

    1. Hello Tom,
      Thank you for reading and commenting on our article. We would like to point out that its purpose is simply to question the commonly-quoted assertion that “badminton is the fastest sport”. As you mentioned, only a couple of specific matches were chosen, and even if there can be differences depending on the matches you choose, it is obvious that at the very least, the quote is something to argue about. A more in-depth analysis of thousands of matches with different levels, genders and times could be trusted to make a more valid statement, but that is totally impossible for us to do.
      Anyway, I’m sure that from now on, whenever you hear somebody talking about the fastest sport, you might refer them to reading material with an a alternative argument.

      Like

  3. I was immediately triggered when you define a frequency and call it speed. Speed is distance per time, therefore hit frequency is totally inappropriate as a measure of speed.

    Like

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