Easy Tennis Betting Tips: Get Started Making Smart Bets
- Our helpful tips for those new to tennis betting
- There’s a reason the favorites are so short at majors, you know
Tennis is one of the most bet on-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
- Futures odds are bad in every sport.
- In tennis, the effect is even more pronounced.
Forgive the pun, but futures odds are very often a racket. With so many players in the field, sportsbooks feel comfortable overrounding until the vig reaches 50%, and they’ll go so short on the favorites that there’s very rarely any value.
At the 2018 Wimbledon Championships, Roger Federer was listed at +175 before the tournament and at better-than-even odds when he lost to Kevin Anderson, a very understandable thing to do. 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. The experience scarred me as a bettor, and it should scare you too.
If you are going to bet on the US Open futures, make sure you use our look at our US Open odds tracker to make sure you’re getting good value.
Use Elo as your guide, not ATP/WTA Rankings
- The World Rankings are not a measure of relative player quality, and never have been
- Try an Elo-based system instead!
We talk about this more in the how tennis rankings work page, but using the ATP/WTA world rankings to compare players is a bad first step for players. Those 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 to decide tournament seedings, not anything more.
Elo is a better ranking of relative quality in a head-to-head contest 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.
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
- More sets make upsets less likely, but make straight-set victories less likely.
Tennis is a unique sport, in that each match is divided into parts that exist independent of each other. Results aren’t cumulative: you can’t blow out an opponent in the first set and coast to a victory. A tennis match is more similar to a playoff series than a four-quarter game.
This means that a three-set tennis match is more like three individual matches that should be treated individually. 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. We go more into why and how this works, but the important thing to know is that more sets increases the favorites’ probability of winning, but decreases 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 sizeable advantage to the favorite. That’s part of the reason only four active players have won Wimbledon, and why those players have a near monopoly on slam titles. It’s not that they have some magical competitive instinct, or that they “step it up” for big tournaments, it’s just that their skill advantages are amplified in the five-set format used in the men’s draw of grand slams.
Just Don’t Bet on Maria Sharapova
- Yes, I’m confident enough to make this evergreen content
Maria Sharapova is one of the most famous American tennis players of all time, and one of the most famous players in the world, and unlike her “rival” Serena Williams she doesn’t have a huge Grand Slam resume to show for it.
Sharapova is almost always listed among the favorites in futures odds (see above) because she’s very famous and good looking. She also hasn’t won anything of note since her second string of injuries and her doping suspension, and isn’t going to. There are better players with better odds out there, the only difference is that they don’t have fashion lines available.