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Feb 12, 2015
Feb 12, 2015

What is the effect of altitude on tennis?

What is the effect of altitude on tennis?
The Tennis calendar exposes players to a variety of conditions; with a number of tournaments held at extreme altitude. This article assesses the effect altitude has on tennis matches, and whether tennis bettors can profit from having detailed knowledge of this.

Events affected by altitude

The ATP Tour currently has four tournaments held at altitude. Gstaad (Switzerland) and Kitzbuhel (Austria) hold clay events on consecutive weeks in July, and a hard court event in Bogota (Columbia) is also held in the summer. Last week’s inaugural clay tournament in Quito (Ecuador) inspired further debate amongst bettors as to the effects of altitude.

Whilst conditions are very different to normal ATP events, it's without doubt that some players thrive and some falter in these extremes. It's generally accepted that altitude speeds up conditions and saps player energy significantly more than the average match.

On that basis, it would be logical to assume players who are better on serve than return should benefit, as it will be harder to return their already strong serve than is usually the case. In addition to this, players who are supremely fit should also achieve strong results, as well as players who are based in similar conditions – given they are used to the surroundings.

Players who perform well in altitude

While assessing historical results at events affected by altitude, several players clearly achieved consistent success and factoring in this strong historical data for the players below is advised for tennis bettors.

Thomaz Bellucci has won Gstaad twice (2009 and 2012) whilst being unseeded on both occasions, and the Brazilian also reached the semi-finals of Quito in 2015.

Dutch journeyman Robin Haase also achieved two tournament wins, both in Kitzbuhel, and was also a beaten finalist in Gstaad. It's also worth noting that he made the semi-finals of both events on several occasions.

Marcel Granollers is another dual winner of Gstaad and Kitzbuhel, and Juan Monaco has also been runner up at both of these European clay court events. 

Ivo Karlovic has made the final (winner and runner-up) both years in Bogota since the event started in 2013, and it’s logical that the fast conditions boosted his already immense serve.

Analysis of events affected by altitude

The table below illustrates the service hold percentages in the last three years for the four ATP events held at altitude, and the percentages that matches were decided in two or three sets: 

EventMatches2 Sets3 Sets2 Set %3 Set %Service Hold %
Gstaad 76 45 31 59.2 40.8 78.3 (+2.7)
Kitzbuhel 78 48 30 61.5 38.5 74.2 (-1.4)
Bogota 52 33 19 63.5 36.5 82.2 (+3.0)
Quito 27 15 12 55.6 44.4 80.2 (+4.5)
Overall (Altitude) 233 141 92 60.5 39.5 N/A
ATP 2014 N/A N/A N/A 64.8 35.2 N/A

We can see that only Kitzbuhel played slower than the 3-year clay court mean, with service holds being 1.4% below average. However, the other three events had between 2.7% and 4.5% more holds than surface averages, and this would grade them as some of the fastest conditions on the ATP Tour. 

It's also clear that all four tournaments had more matches decided in a third set than via straight sets. The overall figure of 39.5% for three set matches is 4.3% above the ATP mean and this should be significant for bettors. 

Game totals will be higher than average, and backing underdogs to win +1.5 sets are likely to yield positive returns, on this basis. Backing favourites to win in straight sets should be very carefully considered by bettors prior to placing bets, with the tendency for matches to end in three sets making this position less likely to convert to a winning bet.

Further debate amongst bettors focuses on whether these conditions benefit favourites or underdogs. 

At Quito in 2015, Dominican Republic veteran Victor Estrella Burgos won his first ATP tournament, at the age of 34.  Estrella Burgos was underdog in all three matches from the quarter-final onwards, yet got the better of Martin Klizan (who did not describe conditions at all favourably in his post-match interview), Thomaz Bellucci and Feliciano Lopez on consecutive days. 

Following this triumph, bettors on social media were keen to exaggerate the effect of altitude on the tournament, suggesting Estrella Burgos would not have succeeded in a ‘normal’ event.

Do favourites perform better or worse when affected by altitude?

However, the data below completely disputes this subjective assertion, showing results for blind-backing all favourites in completed matches at altitude events in the last three years: 

EventMatchesWinWin %P/LROI
Gstaad 76 51 67.1 8 0.1
Kitzbuhel 78 49 62.8 -85 -1.1
Bogota 52 39 75 524 10.1
Quito 27 19 70.4 241 8.9
Overall (Altitude) 233 158 67.8 688 3

Generally, favourites have performed well at altitude in this time period, showing a 3.0% return on investment. This is extremely solid for a blind-backed scenario from a reasonable sample size. 

Figures were particularly boosted by results in Bogota in 2014, and Quito in 2015.  Interestingly, only Kitzbuhel - the slowest of all the events - had negative returns backing favourites.

Favourite success in altitude events shouldn’t be as much of a success as it may initially appear.  One area, which separates the higher ranked players from lower ranked players, is fitness, and it’s completely logical that better players should perform well in tournaments that are physically demanding.

With favourites succeeding more than average, and more matches being decided in three sets than the mean, backing favourites to win by a 2-1 correct scoreline could  be an avenue bettors may wish to examine further. 

Of the 27 matches in the 2015 Quito event, 19 were won by favourites but nine via a 2-1 scoreline.  Blind-backing all favourites to win 2-1 in Quito generated stellar returns on investment of 40.7%.

Clearly conditions at altitude are unique to the four tournaments, and tennis bettors would be well advised to factor the symptoms of these conditions into their betting research.

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