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Oct 20, 2017
Oct 20, 2017

Do tennis players perform better at big tournaments?

What specific tendencies do tennis players have?

Do Nadal, Federer, Djokovic & Murray do better in bigger tournaments?

How does motivation affect tennis betting?

Do tennis players perform better at big tournaments?

Analysing a tennis player’s tendencies when assessing them as a betting option is critical. One area bettors may wish to examine is whether a player’s motivation level changes in bigger or smaller events. This article looks to identify tennis players with noticeably different tendencies when event levels differ.

Recently, Australian tennis prodigy Nick Kyrgios mentioned that he had considerably more motivation for bigger events such as Grand Slam or Masters tournaments, as opposed to smaller lower-profile tournaments.

While this is perhaps understandable, it is rare for a player to publicly make such a comment. Indeed, there is a general yet unrealistic perception among fans and bettors alike that a player will try their best in every match they participate in.

Exceeding expectations

In truth, however, few players are able to do this, with the likes of David Ferrer - who looks like he treats every single match he competes in as if he were in a Grand Slam final - being rare exceptions.

Joining Kyrgios in the bracket of performing better in bigger tournaments, but still well in both bigger and smaller events, were Russian youngster Andrey Rublev and American big-server John Isner

In fact, analysis of Kyrgios’s data shows he has exceeded bookmaker expectations in both 250 & 500 level tournaments as well as Masters 1000 and Grand Slam tournaments. Kyrgios has recorded a strong return of investment of 8.51% in 250s and 500s combined (based on Pinnacle’s closing prices) and a superb ROI of 16.40% in Masters and Slams combined throughout his career.

These are based on a hypothetical £100 flat stake on each of his career matches up to and including matches played on the 6th October 2017. Of the top 50 ATP players, a number of others were also able to exceed Pinnacle’s market expectations based on the above staking plan and the table below illustrates this:

Positive ROI for both

Player Rank 250/500 Level Matches 250/500 Level Profit/Loss 250/500 Level ROI% 1000/Slam Level Matches 1000/Slam Level Profit/Loss 1000/Slam Level ROI% Difference ROI % Overall Matches Overall Profit/Loss Overall ROI %
Pouille 23 97 1299 13.39 83 2625 31.63 18.23 180.00 3924.00 21.80
Dzumhur 36 102 1683 16.50 69 1274 18.46 1.96 171.00 2957.00 17.29
Zverev A 4 130 2629 20.22 79 334 4.23 -16.00 209.00 2963.00 14.18
Kyrgios 19 59 502 8.51 104 1706 16.40 7.90 163.00 2208.00 13.55
Sock 21 137 2346 17.12 132 747 5.66 -11.46 269.00 3093.00 11.50
Nishikori 14 252 3011 11.95 259 2575 9.94 -2.01 511.00 5586.00 10.93
Thiem 7 161 1125 6.99 132 956 7.24 0.25 293.00 2081.00 7.10
Rublev 39 58 9 0.16 43 643 14.95 14.80 101.00 652.00 6.46
Isner 17 295 514 1.74 266 2827 10.63 8.89 561.00 3341.00 5.96
Muller 22 305 2193 7.19 159 526 3.31 -3.88 464.00 2719.00 5.86
Paire 37 219 905 4.13 151 1004 6.65 2.52 370.00 1909.00 5.16
Bautista-Agut 13 218 1097 5.03 186 594 3.19 -1.84 404.00 1691.00 4.19
Querrey 15 352 825 2.34 231 1454 6.29 3.95 583.00 2279.00 3.91
Del Potro 24 251 1077 4.29 276 626 2.27 -2.02 527.00 1703.00 3.23
Fognini 26 347 962 2.77 244 940 3.85 1.08 591.00 1902.00 3.22
Karlovic 49 440 1887 4.29 290 455 1.57 -2.72 730.00 2342.00 3.21
Monfils 35 338 1646 4.87 304 164 0.54 -4.33 642.00 1810.00 2.82
Djokovic 6 237 480 2.03 722 1855 2.57 0.54 959.00 2335.00 2.43
Federer 2 405 254 0.63 891 2223 2.49 1.87 1296.00 2477.00 1.91

Lucas Pouille and Damir Dzumhur lead the way in being underrated by the market, with excellent double-digit overall ROI data for both lower and higher-level events, while third-placed Alexander Zverev’s strong overall figures have been built on a foundation of performing well in smaller events. Jack Sock was another player who also fitted this particular dynamic.

Conversely, joining Kyrgios in the bracket of performing better in bigger tournaments, but still well in both bigger and smaller events, were Russian youngster Andrey Rublev and American big-server John Isner. Isner’s inclusion here may be something of a shock, given his extremely impressive record in smaller 250-level American events. Yet it’s worth noting that he’s frequently a heavy favourite in matches in these tournaments.

Looking at the difference in return on investment figures, it is possible to establish which players follow Kyrgios, Rublev and Isner in performing significantly better in bigger tournaments. The table below shows the players in the top 50 who have yielded 5% ROI or greater improvement in Masters and Grand Slam tournaments, compared to 250 and 500 level events:

Top relative performers in Grand Slams

Player Rank 250/500 Level Matches 250/500 Level Profit/Loss 250/500 Level ROI% 1000/Slam Level Matches 1000/Slam Level Profit/Loss 1000/Slam Level ROI% Difference ROI % Overall Matches Overall Profit/Loss Overall ROI %
Ramos 25 273 -2922 -10.70 148 2812 19.00 29.70 421.00 -110.00 -0.26
Pouille 23 97 1299 13.39 83 2625 31.63 18.23 180.00 3924.00 21.80
Zverev M 27 350 -179 -0.51 150 2635 17.57 18.08 500.00 2456.00 4.91
Rublev 39 58 9 0.16 43 643 14.95 14.80 101.00 652.00 6.46
Wawrinka 9 302 -1313 -4.35 447 3144 7.03 11.38 749.00 1831.00 2.44
Isner 17 295 514 1.74 266 2827 10.63 8.89 561.00 3341.00 5.96
Kyrgios 19 59 502 8.51 104 1706 16.40 7.90 163.00 2208.00 13.55
Simon 45 401 -1861 -4.64 363 517 1.42 6.07 764.00 -1344.00 -1.76
Mannarino 31 225 -1764 -7.84 167 -305 -1.83 6.01 392.00 -2069.00 -5.28
Tsonga 18 245 -462 -1.89 369 1362 3.69 5.58 614.00 900.00 1.47
Verdasco 41 476 -1701 -3.57 404 744 1.84 5.42 880.00 -957.00 -1.09

Buoyed by his run to the final of the Monte Carlo Masters this year, which included underdog wins over Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Lucas Pouille, Albert Ramos leads the way. He has a positive career double-digit ROI in bigger events but a double-digit negative ROI in smaller ones.

The big occasion

The aforementioned Pouille recorded even bigger positive ROI in the higher-profile events. It’s also interesting that Stan Wawrinka’s figures indicate he has performed much better in bigger events than smaller ones, backing up the popular consensus that he is a man for the big occasion.

Tournament organisers should also note this type of data prior to committing to expensive appearance fees for players. Certainly, 250 level event organisers should avoid giving players these huge monetary incentives just for turning up if they have a poor record of performing well in smaller tournaments.

On the other hand, there were a number of players who fitted more of a ‘flat-track bully’ dynamic, by way of recording more impressive results in small events and underperforming in bigger tournaments.

Better ROI in small events

Player Rank 250/500 Level Matches 250/500 Level Profit/Loss 250/500 Level ROI% 1000/Slam Level Matches 1000/Slam Level Profit/Loss 1000/Slam Level ROI% Difference ROI % Overall Matches Overall Profit/Loss Overall ROI %
Khachanov 42 63 2478 39.33 39 -692 -17.74 -57.08 102.00 1786.00 17.51
Cuevas P 32 235 3545 15.09 122 -1249 -10.24 -25.32 357.00 2296.00 6.43
Johnson 46 166 1552 9.35 100 -979 -9.79 -19.14 266.00 573.00 2.15
Raonic 12 174 2055 11.81 257 -1553 -6.04 -17.85 431.00 502.00 1.16
Sugita 40 127 1456 11.46 84 -477 -5.68 -17.14 211.00 979.00 4.64
Bedene 50 154 -84 -0.55 73 -1285 -17.60 -17.06 227.00 -1369.00 -6.03
Zverev A 4 130 2629 20.22 79 334 4.23 -16.00 209.00 2963.00 14.18
Haase 43 289 -769 -2.66 142 -2026 -14.27 -11.61 431.00 -2795.00 -6.48
Sock 21 137 2346 17.12 132 747 5.66 -11.46 269.00 3093.00 11.50
Schwartzman 29 110 861 7.83 67 -206 -3.07 -10.90 177.00 655.00 3.70
Cilic 5 346 1777 5.14 314 -1590 -5.06 -10.20 660.00 187.00 0.28
Dimitrov 8 218 650 2.98 206 -755 -3.67 -6.65 424.00 -105.00 -0.25

It’s not entirely a surprise to see certain names performing much better in smaller events. While Rafael Nadal is often described as the King of Clay, Pablo Cuevas could be considered the ‘King of 250 level clay’, given the Uruguayan’s record in these events. Meanwhile, bigger events with more rounds - particularly over best-of-five sets - appear to create issues for Milos Raonic’s frail body.

Big-event performance

Robin Haase has often been criticised for buckling under pressure, so his underperformance in big events doesn’t come as a shock, while Marin Cilic and Grigor Dimitrov have often flattered to deceive in Grand Slam events (although Cilic has at least had some success in these).

Stan Wawrinka’s figures indicate he has performed much better in bigger events than smaller ones, backing up the popular consensus that he is a man for the big occasion.

Finally, it’s worth evaluating how the historically higher-ranked players in the current top 50 have performed in bigger tournaments compared to smaller ones. When compiling the data for this article, it became apparent that players who’ve spent a lot of time in the top 10 all possessed one particular dynamic - they played more matches in Grand Slam and Masters events than they did in 250/500 tournaments.

Indeed, the traditional ‘elite four’ of Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were the only four players on tour to have played over double the matches in Masters and Grand Slams than they did in 250/500 level events throughout their career.

Djokovic was by far the biggest discrepancy here, playing 3.05 times more matches in bigger events than smaller ones, with Nadal and Federer (2.20) having the same ratio. Murray was marginally behind at 2.15. Of the remaining players on tour, Kyrgios’s desire to be on the big stage was illustrated by him playing matches in big tournaments 1.76 times as much as in smaller ones.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (1.51) was the only other player with a ratio in excess of 1.50. In total, 12 players in the current top 50 have played more matches in big tournaments than small ones and are listed below:

Big-name player data

Player Rank 250/500 Level Matches 250/500 Level Profit/Loss 250/500 Level ROI% 1000/Slam Level Matches 1000/Slam Level Profit/Loss 1000/Slam Level ROI% Difference ROI % Overall Matches Overall Profit/Loss Overall ROI % Big/Small Event Ratio
Djokovic 6 237 480 2.03 722 1855 2.57 0.54 959.00 2335.00 2.43 3.05
Nadal 1 324 -1024 -3.16 713 -863 -1.21 1.95 1037.00 -1887.00 -1.82 2.20
Federer 2 405 254 0.63 891 2223 2.49 1.87 1296.00 2477.00 1.91 2.20
Murray 3 261 775 2.97 561 -445 -0.79 -3.76 822.00 330.00 0.40 2.15
Kyrgios 19 59 502 8.51 104 1706 16.40 7.90 163.00 2208.00 13.55 1.76
Tsonga 18 245 -462 -1.89 369 1362 3.69 5.58 614.00 900.00 1.47 1.51
Wawrinka 9 302 -1313 -4.35 447 3144 7.03 11.38 749.00 1831.00 2.44 1.48
Raonic 12 174 2055 11.81 257 -1553 -6.04 -17.85 431.00 502.00 1.16 1.48
Berdych 20 384 -1694 -4.41 527 -926 -1.76 2.65 911.00 -2620.00 -2.88 1.37
Del Potro 24 251 1077 4.29 276 626 2.27 -2.02 527.00 1703.00 3.23 1.10
Ferrer 28 519 -466 -0.90 535 262 0.49 1.39 1054.00 -204.00 -0.19 1.03
Nishikori 14 252 3011 11.95 259 2575 9.94 -2.01 511.00 5586.00 10.93 1.03

Overall, there was a small but noticeable increase in performance in bigger events from this dozen players. Combined, they have played 3,413 matches and yielded blind-backed profits of £3,195 from a hypothetical £100 stake at Pinnacle Sports closing prices (ROI of 0.94%). This ROI increased to 1.76% in big tournaments, where they generated profits of £9,966 from 5,661 matches.

In conclusion, there does appear to be slight evidence that, generally, big-name players do have an extra gear for bigger events. However, identifying more specific player tendencies - as is often the case - is a strategy more likely to yield betting profits.

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