While it’s true, tennis may not be the most popular sport to follow on television, it has become one of the most popular sports to bet on. Tennis is the 4th most played sport across the world by gamblers, according to BitCoinChaser.com. One of the main reasons for that is, like horse racing or parimutuels, you can play it almost every day during the year. There’s always tennis on the sportsbook. Another reason is if you do your homework, you can win a lot more than you lose. A lot of gamblers have cashed in on tennis.
This guide will give you a basic understanding of tennis lines and what you can bet on before a match and even during a match. This guide will also explain how handicappers set the lines and advise you of what to look for before playing certain matches.
Understanding the Lines
When it comes to playing tennis, there are a lot more bets involved than just the money line on who will win. That’s the obvious one that everyone looks at right away, but there are a lot of other bets, both proposition bets and match bets, that gamblers need to look at.
First, let’s look at what a traditional line will look like on the books:
The biggest mistake beginners make is they think Nadal is favored to win by -2.5 sets. The first number is games, not sets. If you think Nadal will beat Federer by more than 2.5 games in the match, you would bet Nadal. If the final score is Nadal 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, the winning bet is Federer +2.5. The reason? Well, it comes down to simple mathematics. Nadal won the first set by 1 game, the second set by two games, and the fourth set by 1 game. But Federer won the third set by 3 games. That’s an overall net spread of Nadal -1. Therefore, Federer +2.5 games is the winner.
The second number is the money line, which quite simply, is the outright winner of the match. These numbers tend to be inflated with the bigger names, the “public plays”, which we will get into below. But if you bet Nadal at -175, and he wins, you would win $100 on a $175 bet. However, if you bet Federer and he wins, you would win $160 on a $100 bet.
The last number is the over/under for the amount of games in the match. Once again, it comes down to simple mathematics. In the above example, Nadal and Federer played a total of 45 games, so the under 48.5 games would be the winning bet.
There are other prop bets that you will see attached to a match. One is the over/under on the amount of sets in a match. There are also prop bets on who will win the opening set, how many games a player will win, how many breaks a player will have, the over/under on each set, and many others. Every point, game, and set in tennis has a bet attached to it. Bets can be made live and when a match is going on, so don’t think you’ve missed a bet just because you checked in to bet a match after it started.
How tennis lines are set
When handicappers set tennis lines, there are several factors that go into it. First, the name of the players competing. Handicappers always inflate the line for the “public” play. The “public” play is the player who is more known to everyone and is “perceived” to be stronger based on past success. A perfect example was at Wimbledon in 2019. Serena Williams was a -180 favorite against Simona Halep to win the championship match because of name recognition and all her major championships. It didn’t matter that Halep was the better ranked player, nor did it matter that Halep had looked sharper and had beaten stronger opponents coming into that final. When the public saw the name “Serena Williams”, they remember the Serena of past years and figured there was no way she could lose.
The result? The public jumped all over Serena Williams, driving up the price even more, and then Simona Halep whipped her in straight sets in the final. Halep paid out at a money line of +160. Many sharps walked away happy customers while the squares who drove up the price walked away a little more broke.
Keep in mind that Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer are all going to have inflated lines against lesser opponents. It’s not to say you shouldn’t bet them, but you need to be aware that if they’re favored to win by 8.5 games, it’s likely a little bit higher than it should be. They may still cover because they are dominant players, but it’s skewed a bit. Handicappers will realize a match of Djokovic against Richard Gasquet should be Djokovic -7 games, but they will set the line at -8.5 games because they know the public will jump on Djokovic. It could end up Djokovic -9 or -9.5 by the start of the match.
Another factor handicappers look at when setting lines is past head-to-head matchups, particularly on that surface. A lot of regulars who play tennis look at statistics because they’re not aware of the names of the players as much. They look at head-to-heads, as well as how players are on a surface. Dominic Thiem is a great play for clay courts because he’s won several titles on it, even winning against the king of clay Rafael Nadal in regular tournaments (not the French Open), but on grass, he is not that good. He’s never gotten out of the early rounds at Wimbledon. Playing against Thiem on non-clay surfaces will offer some values. He played a good grass court player in Sam Querrey in the first round at Wimbledon in 2019 and Thiem was a -400 favorite. Querrey beat Thiem in four sets, paying off at a +350 money line.
Looking at head-to-head, some players play better against other opponents. If John Isner is ranked No. 28 and Milos Raonic is ranked No. 10, but Isner is 8-2 against Raonic in their career, including 4-0 on hard courts, handicappers will recognize that and could make Isner the favorite. It’s important as a gambler to research every aspect of the history between the opponents, including the surfaces they’ve played on, as well as recent tournaments the players have played in and any injury news that the player may be involved in.
Betting advice for the public
Tennis can be one of the most rewarding sports to play if you do your homework and choose the right matches. Two things I suggest looking at the most is how the players have competed in recent matches and how they do on that surface. If Sloane Stephens comes into a tournament struggling and barely won her first two matches and is playing a red hot Petra Kvitova who has won her previous matches easily, there is going to be some value on Kvitova. The hot hand tends to out-perfom the colder hand in tennis, especially if they are strong on that surface.
Another thing to keep in mind is there are a lot more upsets in tennis than people realize, with the exception of Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic who never lose. But those three aside, there is value on the underdog many times, especially in women’s tennis. The finalists in the women’s Australian Open were an eight-seed and four-seed. The finalists in the women’s French Open were an eight-seed and unranked player. And the finalists in Wimbledon were a seven-seed and 11-seed. If you put your research to work and see a heavy favorite who is not playing well coming in and playing against an underdog who plays well on that surface and has been winning in straight sets coming in, there is value on the underdog. Don’t be afraid to play it. It can have big rewards.
Also, keep in mind when big servers face other big servers, the “over’s” of games in each set are more likely to hit than not, especially if the research suggest both players don’t defend big serves well. These matches usually lead to tiebreakers. Look at these players’ break point percentage and play props with tiebreakers and overs on sets and matches if the numbers play in that favor.
Finally, keep in mind men’s matches traditionally are best-of-three, but in grand slam matches, it’s best-of-five. Women’s matches are always best-of-three, even in grand slam finals. In men’s grand slam matches, you will want to factor in fatigue as the tournament goes on. Guys with tough five set matches will not have as strong of legs if they have to play again the next day, as is sometimes the case.
Bottom line is if you study the trends and put in the work and pick the right games, you can win big in tennis. Don’t play every match, rather, play the right matches.