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5th February, 2016.
Across the first four days this week in the ATP Montpellier Indoor Hard 250 event, there have been a number of shock results, and several performances which have posed questions as to whether big-name players were putting their maximum efforts into winning their matches.
Four players have lost with a closing price of 1.25 or below in the first four days of the event. This is worth noting because in 2015, not a single best of three set event had this many players with an SP or 1.25 or below lose in the entire tournament. The 500 level tournaments in Barcelona and Beijing had three players losing in this price range, but it's worth noting that the significance of this in Barcelona was diluted given that there was a bigger field, and therefore more matches, in the event.
For the record here are the four matches so far where players with an SP of 1.25 or below lost their match:-
1st Round:- Edouard Roger-Vasselin (6.41) beat Gael Monfils (1.16) 6-4 7-6
1st Round:- Ruben Bemelmans (4.96) beat Joao Sousa (1.23) 6-4 3-6 6-4
2nd Round:- Alexander Zverev (5.10) beat Marin Cilic (1.22) 7-6 7-6
2nd Round:- Dustin Brown (5.26) beat Gilles Simon (1.21) 6-4 6-4
I personally traded three of these matches (all but the Zverev match) and ended up with a very small losing position on Roger-Vasselin/Monfils, a large winning position on Bemelmans/Sousa (Bemelmans failed to serve out the match before breaking) and a large losing position on Brown/Simon.
Effectively this was as good as I could hope for in the circumstances - when a heavy underdog wins the match without losing a lead, especially in straight sets, generally I will lose, although as always I will say that this is very dependent on the players involved. It certainly would not be an absolute categorisation.
However, this got me quite interested in looking at the data for heavy favourite losses and to see whether these outcomes were normal, or whether it was a freak week. There has been much speculation on social media about players tanking in these type of events, so I felt having some concrete data would be useful in proving or disproving these theories.
I decided to look at all best of three set matches in 2015 with a favourite priced 1.25 or below. This price was far from a random figure - 1.25 is around the price whereby a player will be about 2.00, or a touch higher, if they lose the first set. I only looked at matches where at least one set was completed (as it would be voided on Betfair otherwise), and I used the best closing price available for each match at an odds comparison website as the closing price. Whilst these prices are likely to be unattainable for any bettor with at least some success, it's a good comparison to use because they are the closest prices to a 100% book.
Overall, players with a closing price of 1.25 or below fared very well in 2015, with a 90.3% win rate and a 3.8% ROI generated. The market looks like they are under-rating the ability of heavy favourites, or perhaps not accurately taking into account the worse fitness, or choking tendencies of the heavy underdog opponents.
Looking at tournament categories, there's no conclusive proof at all that players tank more in 250s. These events are where ranking points and prize money is the lowest on the ATP Tour, and large appearance fees for big-name players are arguably more commonplace.
Players who started their match 1.25 or below in 250s had a solid 4.1% ROI, slightly higher than the overall ROI figure, several percent higher than 500s overall, and a little below the ROI generated in Masters 1000 events. Based on this data, backing favourites in Masters 1000 events would look to be a generally viable proposition.
Moving onto surfaces, it was very interesting to see the following results:-
We can see that hard courts had much worse returns than Indoor Hard, clay and grass. Logically, the slower pace of clay, giving longer rallies/points and less opportunity for serve-dominating players to nick tight sets/matches, should help heavy favourites on clay to succeed. If they are the better player significantly, this should show itself in longer rallies.
However, it is interesting that the quickest surfaces - Indoor Hard and Grass - had excellent results for favourites too, and this is perhaps less logical, particularly in the case of Indoor Hard. Effectively this renders this week in Montpellier a freak occurrence.
The success of heavy favourites on grass is easier to explain. Firstly, the sample is quite small, and secondly, all grass tournaments (with the exception of Newport (USA), which is in much slower conditions than the other European grass court events) are in the run-up to Wimbledon and all players will be keen to get some match preparation on grass before the most illustrious Grand Slam of them all.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, heavy favourites also did very well in the warm-up events before all four Grand Slams, as the table below shows:-
Of course, the sample for the immediate week before a Slam is tiny, but the bigger sample of all events a fortnight before a Slam showed a very high win percentage of 92.3% for players with a closing price of 1.25 or below, and a strong ROI of 5.5%. Just six players priced 1.25 or below lost in all the events combined within a fortnight of the start of Grand Slams in 2015.
This goes some way to destroying the popular myth that players are not motivated before a Grand Slam.
As always, I hope you enjoyed the article and please feel free to send any comments or feedback to any of my accounts:-
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