Professional tennis punter Jack Houghton explains the most important statistics to utilise when developing a tennis betting strategy.
Watching a tennis match is an exciting prospect for a data monkey like me. Alongside the obvious sporting interest is the parallel fascination of the statistics the game so naturally produces.
With broadcasters in competition to provide ever-more insightful content, and with advances in technologies like Hawk-Eye, the information available for tennis betting can sometimes seem overwhelming.
Increasingly intricate measures of performance are allied with beautiful graphics showing where every ball has landed, and every change-of-ends is punctuated by expert analysis of what it tells us about the “story” of the match.
When you add the internet to the equation, the statistical landscape looks even more crowded, with websites providing all manner of percentage records for different players, from who is most likely to win tie-breaks, to who is least likely to win a five-setter, to how long a player is likely to take to play a set.
Choosing Tennis Statistics
For the average fan, all of these extra statistics may well be welcome – it provides another level of insight for them to obsess about – but, for a punter, it presents a problem: how do you know which stats are important when betting on a tennis game, and which should be ignored? How do you sort the diamonds from the detritus?
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been conducting some regression analysis of a number of tennis statistics. For the uninitiated, regression analysis is a statistical method that tries to assess the relative importance of different factors in predicting a certain outcome.
Put another way, it is a way I can figure out which – of all the numerous metrics available – are the statistics that have the biggest influence on whether a tennis player will win a match.
Measurements for Tennis Predictions
Performing this analysis throws up two measures of tennis-player performance as being significantly more important than any others in predicting a match victory:
- A player’s second-serve points won percentage;
- And a player’s second-serve return-points won percentage.
It will come as no surprise that, in the last year, Novak Djokovic tops the charts for both of these performance measures.
So whilst as fans we might marvel most at his stunning ground-stroke winners and ability to out-endure any opponent, the real story of his success is his ability to win service points when under pressure, and win returning points when his opponent is under similar pressure.
And it is these key factors that – according to my regression analysis at least – are the “story” in any match.
Using This in Your Tennis Betting Strategy
With this in mind, then, our knowledge of these key metrics can be used as part of a betting strategy in three ways. First, prior to a tournament, providing playing conditions are broadly similar, reviewing how players have performed in these areas in their most recent competitions can help identify who might be value to lift the next trophy.
Second, when reviewing round match-ups within a tournament, a head-to-head comparison of how players fared in these metrics in the previous round can often identify some likely upsets.
Third – and this is where I’ve found it most profitable – is in identifying when high-profile players might be prone to a poor performance. Especially in the early rounds of major competitions, where they are matched against players who are vastly inferior, top-flight competitors can often win easily, despite not necessarily playing well. Whenever you find a player who has won comfortably, but has returned poor second-serve points won and second-serve return-points won percentages, you know you have someone who will be vulnerable when meeting a more able opponent.
That’s one of the reasons why I tipped Nadal to make an early exit in Melbourne this year: he may have seemed to have recovered some of his past form by making it to the final in Doha, but his inability to win on his second serve with enough frequency told a different story.
So by all means enjoy all the information the tennis broadcasters bombard you with these days – I know I do – but remember that very little of it is as significant as the experts would have us believe.