Feb 26, 2015
Feb 26, 2015

Tennis handicap betting strategy

What are hold/break percentages in tennis?

How to use hold/break percentages in betting

Tennis handicap betting strategy
This tennis handicap betting strategy article looks at historical data to see how various players covered handicap lines, and how bettors can use hold/break percentages to make informed handicap betting decisions.

Pinnacle offer a variety of handicap markets for tennis matches - total games, game handicap and set handicap. Effectively, this allows tennis bettors to decide how dominant one player will be over the other, and back this assertion from a number of handicap choices.

Previous articles have given some insight into handicap betting, with specifics on the ATP Top 15.  With these players generally dominant, the dynamics of these players are somewhat different to the regular players on tour. 

With this in mind, the focus of this article is on the results of generic ‘big servers’ and players who are stronger on return.

We have written about these two types of players in the past; we found that big servers performed well on fast surfaces, and ‘grinders’ - the players good on return - were stronger on slow surfaces.  

The best metric to establish whether a player is a big server or grinder is (service hold % - break opponent %). The higher the figure, the more dominant a player is on serve.

For example Ivo Karlovic (93.7%-9.6% = 84.1%) was the most serve-dominant player, while Pablo Andujar (72.8%-28.3% = 44.5%) was the most return-orientated.

The following table shows the various handicap results for big servers and strong returners. The last 50 non-Grand Slam ATP Tour matches in the 2014 and 2015 season for each player were assessed (some players did not play 50 matches in this time period).


Click here to enlarge the tennis handicap table.

What the data suggests

It's apparent that the two genres have vastly different characteristics. Big servers generally played fewer three set matches (35.1% compared to 40.0%) and, as would logically be expected, won more matches by a 2-0 set margin. 

This data may surprise bettors who assume big servers’ matches go to a deciding third set, due to their notorious ability to cover game handicap totals.

Nevertheless, big servers also covered the game total line a number of times by 7-6 7-6, 7-6 7-5 or 7-6 6-4, winning or losing in two tight sets.

We can see that despite the lower three set match percentage, big servers actually covered the over 22.5 game 52.1%, which was 5.7% more than the grinders 46.4%. 

This 46.4% for the players strong on return is a significant figure, as it is a mere 6.4% more than the percentage for 3 set matches.

Therefore almost all matches featuring at least one strong returner that cover the 22.5 game line reach a deciding set - a match being decided in two tight sets is very rare indeed for these players.

Despite big-servers having less experience in a third set, they were much stronger overall in deciders. Led by Feliciano Lopez and Steve Johnson, their win percentage in deciders was 8.6% higher than grinders, who subsequently struggled in long matches, probably as a direct consequence of their game style, which uses more energy.

Something readers may not have expected is for both genres to cover the -3.5 game line almost the same percentage, with a mere 0.2% split.

However, this statistic discounts the fact that big servers won more matches, and we can see that grinders had a much higher percentage of success for winning the match and covering this line. 

How this relates to a tennis betting strategy

Pablo Andujar and Carlos Berlocq both covered the -3.5 game line in a win over 80%, indicating that taking the bigger odds on the game handicap for these players in particular, and grinders in general, may be a tennis handicap betting strategy worth considering.

The data also allows us to make the following observations on some individual players:

  • Sam Querrey, Milos Raonic, Bernard Tomic and David Ferrer boasted the highest 2-0-win percentage of the sample. Backing these players to cover the -1.5 set line may be a worthwhile angle for bettors.
  • Ivo Karlovic, Milos Raonic, Juan Monaco, David Ferrer and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez very rarely lost in straight sets. Backing them to win +1.5 sets when starting the match as a heavy underdog can be considered.
  • Guillermo Garcia-Lopez saw an incredible 70% of his matches cover the 22.5 game line. Fellow grinder David Ferrer (52.4%) may also be a good ‘overs’ candidate, with Ferrer starting most matches as a heavy favourite.
  • Big Servers Sam Groth and John Isner were the worst players for covering -3.5 game lines when winning matches. This indicates the duo generate more wins in tight matches than any other players in the sample.

Finally, the metric ‘2-0 win percentage - 3.5 game percentage difference’ is useful for assessing a players tendency to win 2-0 but not cover the 3.5 game line (highly positive figure), which indicates a player wins tight sets or loses sets by a dominant margin, while a low or negative figure indicates a player tends to win dominant sets. 

We can see that Karlovic, Isner and Groth (the three ‘biggest servers’ by our calculations) as well as Garcia-Lopez, failed to dominate sets and matches frequently. 

Conversely, Andujar, Gabashvili, Tomic and Ferrer won the highest proportion of dominant sets or matches. Ferrer covered an over line frequently, and played a high percentage of three set matches.

This highlights the Spanish veteran has a tendency to win sets dominantly but fail to win matches easily in straight sets.  

This article should give tennis bettors a number of betting angles to consider when betting on tennis handicap markets, as well as ideas for future handicap betting analysis. 

Click here to see 
the latest handicap tennis lines.

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