May 23, 2014
May 23, 2014

How surface differences affect tennis betting

How surface differences affect tennis betting

Tennis is a unique sport as matches are played on a variety of surfaces, with greatly varying characteristics. This tennis betting article assesses how surface differences affect tennis betting, and by understanding how specific players perform on each, whether or not you can find a betting edge.

In the 2013 ATP calendar, there were 65 main tour events across four surfaces. The most common surface is Clay which had 22 events, closely followed by Outdoor Hard which had 20.  There were a further 17 hard court events held on the slightly quicker Indoor Hard surface, with six being played on Grass.

The fact that there are four surfaces being used throughout the calendar means that for a player to reach the upper echelons of the sport, they must be at least competent on all four surfaces, otherwise they will be passing up on a large proportion of ranking points during the periods of the year that the particular surface is used.

The impact of different tennis surfaces

Each surface has various characteristics.  This was touched on in the previous article that focused on players’ results after changing surfaces, and the table below looks at these characteristics in more detail in the ATP.  Statistics are correct as of May 21st 2014.

Surface12 Month Service Hold12 Month Opponent Break12 Month Aces Per Game12 Month Break Points Per Game
Clay 75.6 24.4 0.35 0.59
Hard Indoor 79.0 21.0 0.54 0.53
Indoor Hard 80.9 19.1 0.57 0.52
Grass 82.4 17.6 0.61 0.49
Overall 78.6 21.4 0.49 0.55

We can see that the surfaces have a fairly large difference to the Tour mean – the slowest surface, clay, has a 3.0% less service hold percentage, whilst the fastest, grass, has a 3.8% higher percentage.  Both Hard and Indoor Hard have hold percentages slightly above the mean with Indoor Hard showing the closest relationship to grass.

It is also apparent that ‘big servers’ have much less advantage on clay.  With an average of 0.35 aces per game, winning the point with a single serve is much less prevalent on the dirt than on any other surface.  This has a direct relationship to the break point per game averages, which show that clay offers players more break point opportunities than any other surface.

Quite interestingly – and surprisingly – grass does not have a hugely lower break point per game percentage than any other surface, with its 0.49 break point per game percentage a mere 0.06% below tour average.  With most bettors, traders and the media speculating that servers absolutely dominate on grass, these statistics indicate that this is likely to be an over-reaction and there isn’t a vast difference between grass and Indoor Hard.

ATP: How the top 10 perform on each surface

As previously mentioned, a player needs to be adept across all surfaces to reach the top of the sport.  The following table shows the surface stats for the current ATP top 10 (correct at 21st May 2014): -


Click the graph to see the full size

It is immediately apparent that the top two in the world – Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – are highly consistent across the two main surfaces, clay and hard, and this consistency is a main reason for their success.

World number three, Stan Wawrinka, has very mediocre statistics on the faster surfaces, Indoor Hard and grass, and opposing him on these surfaces may prove profitable.  In fact, Wawrinka has a losing 14-18-career record on grass, and clearly is not even close to top 10 level on that surface.

It can also be seen that the 4th and 5th ranked players, Roger Federer and David Ferrer, have a high level of competency across all surfaces with their worst surface having a combined percentage within 10.1% from their best.  It is to Ferrer’s credit that he worked to convert himself from a clay court specialist to an all-surface player and his consistent ranking around the top five is testament to that.

One surprising stat is Kei Nishikori’s clay percentages.  Based on the table above, this would place the talented Japanese player as the third best clay courter in the world.

WTA: How the top 10 perform on each surface

The following table shows the surface stats for the current WTA top 10 (correct at 21st May 2014): -


Click the graph to see the full size

As previous articles have also shown, the most obvious stat in the above table is the sheer dominance that Serena Williams exhibits over the WTA Tour.  With stats that are in the stratosphere, she has an incredible 23.2% greater combined hold/break percentage over her nearest challenger on clay, Simona Halep.  However, whilst the world number one has strong stats across all surfaces, it can be seen that she has relatively weaker stats on the faster surfaces, and this is also the case for world number seven, Jelena Jankovic.

There has been speculation as to whether Halep deserves her place amongst the top five in the world but there is no doubt based on the above statistics.  She shows a very strong level of consistency across all surfaces, with the combined percentages ranking her 2nd of the top 10 on clay, 4th on hard, 4th on Indoor Hard and 7th on Grass.

It is vital that bettors take into account the surface characteristics before making a bet, and a broad knowledge about players’ preferred surfaces and their abilities across the four surfaces is also highly necessary to achieve success in the markets.

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