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It is often said by the media that if a tennis player is going to succeed in a Grand Slam event, they need to avoid playing 5 set matches. The obvious implications of playing a 5 set match is that the player faces more mental and especially physical strain in these gruelling encounters.
The most notable of these has to be the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010 which ended 70-68 to Isner in the final set, in a match spanning 3 days if my memory serves me correctly. Unsurprisingly, Isner lost his subsequent second round match to Thiemo de Bakker (a player he’d have probably been considered a favourite against) only winning 5 games in 3 sets.
Several players seem to have a propensity to play 5 set matches more than others. Notable mentions here should go to Almagro, Federer, Isner, Kohlschreiber, Petzschner and Wawrinka, who regularly appeared in my research. Indeed, it has been discussed in the media that Isner’s poor record in Grand Slam events is due to the fact that he regularly plays 5 set matches, due to the often tight nature of his matches.
So what I thought I’d do is to assess the impact of playing a 5 set match on the winning player’s subsequent match, to see whether either backing or laying these players would work well. Would the market take into account the fact that the player had previously played an arduous match, or not? My sample was all 4 Grand Slams, from 2009-2012.
In the 4 years, there were 365 outcomes where the player playing had won a 5 set match in the previous round. Out of those 365 matches, only 143 players won after winning a 5 set match in the previous round, a win percentage of 39.2%. Clearly this is an interesting stat in itself, although further research was required to analyse an edge.
If I was to stake £100 on every player who had won a 5 set match in the previous round, I would have been £6,661 down overall (based on Pinnacle closing prices). This obviously is a horrendous result, and the return on investment of -18.2% is terrible. At this point we can draw a clear conclusion that blanket laying of every player that has won a 5 set match in the previous round is a winning strategy.
This is fantastic in itself, but what I then did was split the results into 2 categories: top 50 players and out of top 50 players. The results were even more conclusive.
There were 218 outcomes where a top 50 player played a 5 set match the previous round, and they won 110 times (50.5%). Outside the top 50, there were 147 outcomes but only 33 victories (22.4%). Here we can see a clear distinction between how players of different ranks deal with fatigue. The higher ranked players can seemingly deal with this much better and there was less of an edge laying these players in these situations.
In the 218 outcomes for top 50 players, I would have lost £1848 (ROI -8.5%), but with the players outside the top 50 I would have been £4813 down with an absolutely horrific ROI of -32.7%.
So the conclusion we can draw from my research is that it is highly profitable to lay all players outside the top 50 in a Grand Slam match after they won a 5 set match the round previously. It is profitable to lay top 50 players too, but the edge is much smaller.
Update: Australian Open 2013
The Australian Open proceeded in the same vein as previous Grand Slams that were included in the sample. In fact, this trend was even more prevalent with there not being a single player ranked over 50 winning their subsequent match after winning a 5 set match, throughout the whole tournament!
The results for the matches where a player outside the top 50 won a 5 set match in the previous round are as follows:-
Round of 64:-
Nieminen (SP 1.49) lost in 5 sets to Dodig.
Duckworth (SP 3.26) lost in 5 sets to Kavcic.
Roger-Vasselin (SP 5.06) lost in 4 sets to Benneteau.
Gimeno-Traver (SP 9.58) lost in 3 sets to Almagro.
Ito (SP 10.55) lost in 4 sets to Baghdatis.
Bautista-Agut (SP 2.28) lost in 5 sets to Fognini.
Baker (SP 5.84) was forced to retire during his loss to Querrey.
Round of 32:-
Dodig (SP 9.00) lost in 4 sets to Gasquet.
Kavcic (SP 25.87) lost in 3 sets to Tsonga.
Monfils (SP 2.62) lost in 5 sets to Simon.
Donskoy (SP 6.74) lost in 3 sets to Nishikori.
Whilst it’s fair to say that the majority of these players were expected to lose based on their starting prices, with only one player as favourite, it’s undeniable that players ranked outside the top 50 are at a huge disadvantage in the subsequent round following a 5 set victory.
Regarding players in the top 50, whom you may recall have a lower return on investment (but still heavily negative) when laying them after a 5 set match, the results were as follows:-
Round of 64:-
F Mayer (SP 2.13) lost in 3 sets to Berankis.
Almagro (SP 1.10) defeated Gimeno-Traver in 3 sets.
Youzhny (SP 1.34) lost in 5 sets to Donskoy.
Baghdatis (SP 1.08) defeated Ito in 3 sets.
Verdasco (SP 1.61) defeated Malisse in 3 sets.
Stepanek (SP 2.09) defeated Lopez in 3 sets.
Round of 32:-
Seppi (SP 3.11) defeated Cilic in 5 sets.
Tipsarevic (SP 1.38) defeated Benneteau in 5 sets.
Janowicz (SP 3.31) lost in 3 sets to Almagro.
Melzer (SP 12.17) lost in 3 sets to Berdych.
Round of 16:-
Simon (SP 24.94) lost in 3 sets to Murray.
Seppi (SP 1.59) lost in 3 sets to Chardy.
Chardy (SP 2.59) defeated Seppi in 3 sets.
Tipsarevic (SP 2.23) retired during his loss to Almagro.
Anderson (SP 4.84) lost in 3 sets to Berdych.
Djokovic (SP 1.23) defeated Berdych in 4 sets.
Federer (SP 2.30) lost in 5 sets to Murray.
Ferrer (SP 8.04) lost in 3 sets to Djokovic.
Murray (SP 2.73) lost in 4 sets to Djokovic.
Assessing these matches, I applied stakes of £100 to back each player, and I wanted to see if this would produce a similar negative Return on Investment as witnessed previously. Out of these matches, 8 players won and 11 were eliminated (a win percentage of 42.11%), which is below the previous 50.05% success rate for players inside the top 50.
If I had backed each player for £100 based on closing prices, I would have made a loss of £481 from an investment of £1900 (-25.32% ROI). Clearly again, this would be a terrible result and from this we can also assume that laying these top 50 players after winning 5 set match in the previous rounds would prove lucrative.
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