Tennis bettors should be aware of the ‘Choke Factor’ associated with lower ranked players when competing against top opponents. This article highlights why bettors would be wise to consider the ranking of an underdog’s opponent before backing the outsider.
What is the Choke Factor?
Something that is written about a great deal, both in print media, and especially on forums and social networks, is the accusation that a player ‘choked’ a match, or a situation in a match.
Key situations might be serving for the set, a set point, or a match point. The inference is that the player did not have enough mental strength that they would, or could, win the point, or beat their opponent.
Previous trading research has shown that over a large sample, an average player does not have their serve broken more when serving for the set or match, than in any other service game. However, when they do, it is a more memorable event than if they routinely served out the game and won the set. Therefore, it is speculated about more on social media, and remembered more by bettors.
Having said this, it would be fairly logical to think that players may struggle with self-belief and mental strength when nearing a win over an illustrious player. For example, Nicha Lertpitaksinchai (ranked 347) beat Aleksandra Krunic (ranked 153) recently, priced 7.19. It would be likely that she would not consider this such a landmark victory as Luksika Kumkhum (ranked 88), who defeated Petra Kvitova (ranked 6) at the Australian Open, priced 11.15. Despite there being a bigger ranking gap between Lertpitaksinchai and Krunic than Kumkhum and Kvitova, it is much more likely Kumkhum would feel more pressure near the end of the match.
The next logical step would be to assess whether an opponent’s ranking affected the chances of a heavy underdog winning a match. All players priced over 5.00 in the 2014 were sampled, and backed for £100 level stakes at Pinnacle’ closing prices.
We can see that in the ATP, there was a fairly large difference between underdogs playing top 20 opponents, and those outside the top 20. Against top 20 opponents, the win percentage for underdogs was 5.45% less, and the -18.44% return on investment was horrific.
Of the nine wins against top 20 opponents, Roberto Bautista-Agut’s victory over Juan Martin Del Potro (priced 13.03) was the biggest priced win. It’s also worth mentioning that Stanislas Wawrinka (also ranked in the top 10) had two of the nine wins himself, against Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, en route to his Australian Open title.
David Ferrer was victim of two upsets, against Daniel Brands (6.13) and Yen-Hsun Lu (5.66).
The above table illustrates that this theme also continued in the WTA, although to a much lesser extent. Backing underdogs priced over 5.00 against top 20 opponents showed a slight negative result, whilst the small sample of underdogs against players ranked outside the top 20 was strongly positive.
Petra Kvitova was, as mentioned previously, a big priced victim of Luksika Kumkhum – the biggest of the WTA so far in 2014 – and also suffered a bad defeat to Tsvetana Pironkova in Sydney (6.83). Lertpitaksinchai’s win over Krunic was the biggest priced underdog win outside the top 20.
As with Wawrinka, there were several instances where a top 20 player won as an underdog against a fellow top 20 player. Ana Ivanovic (9.75) achieved this at the Australian Open against Serena Williams, and at the same event Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Victoria Azarenka when priced 5.16.
WTA young guns offer value
If the general betting public were surveyed was conducted about whether more upsets occur in the ATP or the WTA, opinion would probably be divided. It would be likely that some would say that the top WTA players don’t play to as consistently high level as the top ATP players, but conversely others may assert that the lower ranked WTA players would be more likely to choke when close to a big victory.
One factor not necessarily considered by many is the breakthrough of some very promising young players in the WTA, with there appearing to be much more new talent in the women’s game than on the ATP.
Currently there are just six ATP players in the top 100 aged under 23, with Grigor Dimitrov (20) leading the way – and the only player under 23 in the top 50. Dominic Thiem (99) made his debut in the top 100 this week. However there are 29 WTA players under 23 in the top 100 with Simona Halep the highest ranked at 9, and there are 9 WTA players inside the top 50.
What this can infer is that the WTA has much younger, and better talent, than the ATP. These young WTA players, when breaking through to the main tour, would logically be more able to cause a shock result than the young ATP players.
This final table shows the combined ATP/WTA stats and again shows the huge discrepancy between underdogs facing top 20 opponents and those facing opponents ranked outside the top 20. Whilst the sample on opponents ranked over 20 still isn’t the biggest, it does show that bettors would be extremely wise to consider the ranking of an underdog’s opponent before backing the outsider.
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