Tennis is one of the most bet on sports in the world, and one of the more difficult sports to start betting on.
Here’s a handy guide of three key tips that will help you get started betting on tennis.
Be Wary of Tennis Futures Odds, Especially for Favorites
Forgive the pun, but futures odds are very often a racket. With so many players in the field, sportsbooks feel comfortable over rounding until the vig reaches 50%. They go so short on favorites that there’s very rarely any value.
At the 2018 Wimbledon Championships, Roger Federer was listed at +175 before the tournament. He was at better-than-even odds when he understandably lost to Kevin Anderson. Six of the highest players on the women’s odds sheet lost in the first two rounds, wiping out 43% implied probability. The eventual winner, who emerged from all that carnage, had started the 128-player tournament listed at just +1000.
Forgive the pun, but tennis futures are very often a racket.
If you are going to bet on the US Open futures, make sure you look at our US Open odds tracker to make sure you’re getting good value.
Use Elo as Your Guide, Not ATP/WTA Rankings
It’s crucial to understand how tennis rankings work. ATP/WTA world rankings are not the best place to compare the skills of two players. It’s crucial to recognize that these rankings aren’t mean to be a relative ranking of player quality, just a ranking of who has achieved the most on tour in the last calendar year. The ranking system is used by the tour for tournament seeding alone.
Elo is a better ranking of relative head-to-head quality than just about anything out there. It works by assigning each player a base score and then adjusting that score after each match to account for the outcome. You can even filter results by surface, so you can see how a player ranks on hard court, grass, or clay courts.
World Rankings are not meant to be a measure of relative player quality.
You can find a Tennis Elo list at Tennis Abstract. Keep in mind, however, that this list considers a player’s entire career, so it’s not the most sensitive to recent changes, especially regarding players with a large body of work.
If Novak Djokovic starts playing left handed or Rafael Nadal starts arranging his bottles a different way, it will take an Elo system a while to adjust for and reflect the calamitous effect this will have on their play.
Consider the Number of Sets
Tennis is a unique sport in that each match is divided into parts that exist independently. Results aren’t cumulative; you can’t blow out an opponent in the first set and coast to a victory. In this sense, tennis matches have more in common with a playoff series than a four-quarter game.
Matches with more sets increase the favorite’s probability of winning, but decrease their probability of winning in straight sets.
A three-set tennis match is more like three individual competitions. From a statistics standpoint, this means that you can use Elo to calculate the probability of victory for each set, as well as the match itself.
You can read more about how this works, but the important thing to know is that matches with more sets increase the favorite’s probability of winning, but decrease their probability of winning in straight sets.
Some individual players struggle or excel with the five-set format for different reasons (fitness, concentration, etc). But for the most part, the five-set format gives a pretty sizable advantage to favorites.
Looking for More Tennis Betting Tips?
Visit our how to bet on sports section for an entire series of tennis betting articles chock full of advice.
Please remember to always wager responsibly, and enjoy the action out there.