Although British betting culture still places horse racing and football at the forefront of any shop or website, tennis is one of the most underrated sports when it comes to betting and potential payouts.
The more prolific a match, the greater the range of prices generally available from bookmakers, and with tennis matches being played for a vast majority of the calendar year, the rewards for shrewd gambling can come thick and fast.
Where tennis is concerned, the period between May and September is particularly busy, and unlike football, tennis also has a much simpler range of markets from which to choose. The most popular ones are identified in the next section.
Identifying the most lucrative market is important, and an in-depth read of a preview from a tennis expert is always a wise move before placing a bet or compiling an accumulator. Bookmakers will typically offer the following basic markets for tennis matches:
- 1X2: The overall winner of the match
- O/U: In tennis, this market can refer to whether a match will last over or under a certain number of sets. For instance, if one player wins a best-of-three-sets match in straight sets (2-0), a bet predicting under 2.5 sets would win.
- Handicap: Like 1X2, but the player in question must now win by two clear sets, or more, depending on how much of a handicap they are backed with. Odds are longer for each player, so this market is best delved into when the players are evenly matched, and more likely to share sets.
- Correct Score: As a general rule, the more sets involved in a correct score, the longer the odds. For instance, backing a player to win a best-of-five match by 3-2 would offer a far better price than 3-0 (straight sets). However, the price difference between a straight-sets win and a non-straight-sets win is less drastic if the players are evenly matched.
- Outright: Not found in individual matches, this is a single price for a player to win the tournament.
Players to back
Generally, in tournaments where a ‘seeding’ system is used, seeded players are considered more likely to progress. With is of more significance during the four ‘Grand Slam’ tournaments that take place. In chronological order, they are:
- Australian Open (hard court)
- French Open (clay court)
- Wimbledon (grass court)
- US Open (hard court)
The ranking system used by the ATP and WTA is based on the form of ranked players over a twelve-month period. Under normal conditions, the rankings are a solid enough guideline, but extenuating circumstances such as injury or suspension can result in a highly ranked player nose-diving down the rankings.
That is, of course, unless the player in question is granted license to keep their ranking by the relevant authorities. Research into a player’s strengths and weaknesses, along with his/her recent form is by far a more important element for a bettor to consider if they are to have any chance of success.
Certain players also thrive much better on certain surfaces. Rafael Nadal, for instance, is known as the ‘King of Clay’ – and for good reason. This year, he won the French Open for a tenth time in thirteen years.
Meanwhile, two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray has been the man to beat on grass, and many believe that he would have won a third title if he had been free of injury in this year’s event.
ITF challenger events also offer a rich tapestry for bettors, with the tours for both gender divisions holding over 500 events each across the world.
'In play' betting and value for money
In the era of online betting, with betting apps providing an instant fix, many bookmakers compete to offer bettors the best deal. While some bookmakers choose to play the long game, by capitalising on events which will certainly be popular, tennis - by its very nature - demands a quick offer.
Games can change dynamically, and though the seeding system can offer people projecions as to who will face who in the next round, there is still very little time to promote special odds ahead of any match. As such, the best value prices for tennis can often be found during the match, as bookmakers compete with one another to reel new customers in.
When it comes to in-play tennis betting, one potentially rewarding option for the bettor is to look at matches in which the outsider is one or two sets down and back the favourite to win. Yet again, however, studying form is a vital part of doing so with vindication.
Whether a bettor uses in-play services or not, it is in the value of the price that the first battle to beat the bookmaker can be won. Although some picks appear obvious, not one edition of any major tournament has been without at least one upset:
Form over function
In the case of tennis, it is the form of the player – and, by extension, their own record against a particular opponent – that usually matters. For example, anyone backing Kevin Anderson (ranked 32nd) to beat Dominic Thiem (7th) at ATP Washington on 3 August 2017, would have seen a payout that was excellent value for money.
In beating Thiem, Anderson took his own personal record against the Austrian to 7-0, and this is crucial to determining the true value of any payout.
Thiem had enjoyed a strong Wimbledon, making him favourite ahead of his ATP Washington match against Anderson. However, Anderson was also in excellent form, and had beaten Thiem on (all) six occasions they had previously met.
Despite this, bookmakers only saw a probability of around 44% that Anderson would win, with the disparity in two players’ rankings their justification for publishing such long odds against Anderson. However, the probability of an Anderson win was (in reality) closer to 60%, given his form and record against Thiem.
Had this been reflected in the bookmakers’ prices, the odds would have been significantly shorter.
South Africa's Kevin Anderson reflects on 'epic' with Dominic Thiem.
Tennis betting: a bastion of change
The ever-increasing frequency of tennis matches on the market, accompanied by an ever-expanding range of betting apps, has changed the nature of sports betting on a wider scale. By extension, the very way in which bookmakers operate has been forced to change.
Some bookmakers, in order to keep ahead of the vast competition that now exists, now actively identify the best value bets. Certain bookmakers may even provide the probability of an outcome along with the price.
With a vast quantity of tennis matches being played, most bookmakers are increasingly using the most prolific matches in their special offers. Less experienced bettors – or simply those that are more casual about betting – will typically remain loyal to one bookmaker. However, these bettors are still more easily taken in than those that are more experienced.
The more drastic special offers advertised are thus targeted at new (not existing) customers, causing them to ‘defect’ to another bookmaker. Ultimately then, it could be argued that tennis has been one of the most influential sports, as far as the process of tilting the betting experience in favour of the bettor is concerned.