An important component of tennis betting is understanding the difference between the three-set matches that are played in the regular ATP Tour and the five-set matches that are played in the Grand Slam tournaments. We will analyze the differences between the two and how this can affect the betting success in tennis betting.
Structural differences between Grand Slam and ATP tournaments
A clear discrepancy between the Grand Slam tournaments and the ATP is the standard of confrontation in the first rounds: the seeding system at the Grand Slam competitions is such that the top 32 ranked players cannot face each other at the beginning of the path on the grid, and therefore they all play matches with players outside the top 32.
Of course, there are “dark horses” among the latter group, such as top players returning from injury and future stars on the rise, but by and large, tennis players from the top 32 will enjoy a significant advantage over by their opponents in the first round. Even after the first round is over, the seeding system is structured in such a way that the best players cannot face each other until the last rounds of the Grand Slam.
At the same time, at ATP tournaments, for example, in the Masters 1000 series, the best players, by definition, can face a strong rival in the first round. Basically, this means that first-round Grand Slam matches are likely to be characterized by significant differences in the quality of play and abilities of the opponents, while this happens much less often in the Masters. These early tournament inconsistencies are exacerbated by the fact that they are played in five sets rather than three – in general, in most other sports, shorter formats tend to provide fewer benefits for the best players.
How does this affect the top ten of the ATP rating?
A comparison between the average implied close line win percentage for the current top ten ATP players in the first round of Grand Slam matches and other tournaments since early 2019 seems to support this argument ( Table ):
As you can see above, all ten players in the current ATP Top 10 had higher average closing line odds, implying a correspondingly higher winning percentage in their first round of Grand Slam events than they have achieved in other tournaments, in which competed during this time. Daniil Medvedev and David Goffin even “scored” more than 15% of the difference on this front.
These numbers seem to indicate that the Grand Slam format is shaping up in favor of higher ranked players. They are unlikely to face any opponent playing close to their level in the first rounds, and the five-set format allows them to calmly and methodically bring matters to a common victory. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the top ten players have higher implied odds of winning first-round grand slams than lower-level ATP tournaments.
Impact of Mismatches at Grand Slam Tournaments
This is also confirmed by the discrepancy in statistics between the matches of the fourth round (with 16 players remaining) at the Grand Slam tournaments and the matches prior to this stage.
In Grand Slam tournaments from 2017 to 2019, matches from the fourth round onwards averaged 3.69 sets per match, up from 3.61 before this stage. The decisive sets themselves were also more “hard”, averaging 0.21 tie-breaks per set and 0.77 per match, compared with 0.18 and 0.64, respectively, for the early stages.
All this suggests a simple thought: it is quite obvious that the first few rounds at Grand Slam tournaments have huge discrepancies in the level of the opponents’ play and, perhaps, can even be considered as virtual “automatic wins” for tennis players such as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.
In contrast, three-set ATP tournaments offer more competitiveness and fewer inconsistencies in the opening rounds, resulting in smoother results. This is indicated by the fact that they have an average of 0.20 tie-breaks for all rounds, compared with only 0.18 at the Grand Slam tournaments.
Can top players play better against each other at Grand Slam tournaments?
So, the current top 10 ATP players have a higher implied win percentage based on closing rates for their first round Grand Slam matches than the ATP. All ten players in the group “coped” with this, highlighting the fact that the format of the Grand Slam tournaments is developing in favor of the best tennis players, especially in the first rounds.
It has also been found that matches become more competitive in the later stages of Grand Slam tournaments, as they are more likely to have two high-quality opponents and therefore a smaller ability gap between the two players.
With this in mind, it is important to assess the differences in player data between the two tournament formats. Analyzing the performance of the current top ten ATP in matches against the 11th to 30th rankings from the beginning of 2019 onwards, several interesting findings were noted.
In the entire sample, the top ten ATP tennis players had their serve success 79.7% of the time and took the opposing team 20.7% of the time (total 100.4%) at Grand Slam tournaments.
However, this combined service / break retention rate rose to 103.2% (82.4% retention and 20.8% break) at other APR events. While the opponent’s break percentage was almost identical in both formats, the top ten were able to hold their serve almost 3% more times in regular three-set matches at the ATP tour than at the Grand Slam tournaments.
These statistics can perhaps be assessed as unexpected given the perception that the best players are trying to get in shape ahead of the Grand Slam tournaments. The idea of reaching the peak for Grand Slam matches is logical, thanks in large part to the financial prizes and rating points available at these prestigious tournaments. However, as highlighted, the collectively leading players do not appear to be following this trend.
Analysis of the performances of the top ten ATP at the Grand Slam and ATP tournaments
The chart above shows the retention / break data for each of the top ten players versus ranked 11th to 30th ranked players during the same period, split between the three network ATP events and the total success in serving and receiving, taking into account both theirs and the five-set Grand Slam events.
Again, numerous interesting observations are striking. First, it seems that a few of the top ten players are more likely to compete with tennis players “on the way” to the top of the ATP rankings, with David Goffin’s serving looking the least powerful.
In addition to Goffin, players such as Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils, Matteo Berrettini and Stefanos Tsitsipas, in almost 20% of cases, on average made breaks on the serve of their opponents. This probably serves as a barrier to any potential chance of unexpected success for non-top 10 tennis players at Grand Slam tournaments.
Consistently strong ability to break off their opponents’ serves is a factor that has historically been indicative of the success of top tennis players in Grand Slam competitions. On the other hand, it is obvious that if a player is unable to break regularly, they will more often participate in more stubborn sets and matches.
As a result, these tennis players will need to score many key points in order to succeed in multiple matches in a short amount of time. The difficulty of this task is compounded by the fact that more stubborn sets and matches often take longer and therefore contribute more to accumulated fatigue. In general, all players should strive to avoid the prospect of playing seven five-set matches in two weeks.
Which top players are better at Grand Slam tournaments?
Another (and perhaps more important) observation is that both world leaders in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, are the only players who can boast better overall performance than their individual ATP performances.
By definition, this would mean they did better in Grand Slam tournaments against ranked 11th to 30th than in regular ATP tournaments against them. It is not easy to establish why this is so, although one theory to dwell on is that they are more efficient at managing their tournament schedules than most other top ten players.
With the exception of Roger Federer, both Djokovic and Nadal participate in far fewer sub-Masters 1000 tournaments than the rest of the top 10, and are therefore likely to be more refreshed in anticipation of the next Grand Slam … If any of the players in this group make it to the peak for the Grand Slam, then that’s them.
Federer’s stats are an interesting case as his ATP stats and totals are pretty much the same, and he’s also very pragmatic about the number of tournaments he participates in. However, his serve and breaks are still slightly worse at Grand Slam events compared to ATP events: perhaps the difficult five-set Grand Slam format turns out to be physically challenging for the 38-year-old.
With all of this elite trio now in their thirties, it should soon be possible for other top 10 players to take advantage of any decline in their level of play. It would be reasonable to argue that the other top ten players should try to replicate the tournament schedule of these three tennis legends.
From a betting standpoint, until there is an obvious statistical downturn from any of these three players, looking for value bets on them against the other top ten Grand Slam players seems to be a smart approach. With the exception of Dominic Tim, the rest of the top 10 ATP players simply cannot match their serve / reception record with Federer, Djokovic and Nadal.