Laying After The First Set - Second Set WTA Score Analysis

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Tell me someone who likes trains.

Apart from the odd person standing on a railway bridge, noting down the 0757 from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, train lovers are few and far between in this world.

Naturally, this goes for swing traders too - we don't want a train.  If we catch a train, we lose.  Pretty much always.  Obviously we want a match which has swings and fluctuations in it, with one person holding a break lead, losing it, then the other doing so, being pretty much ideal.  

There are many ways we can identify potentially swingy matches, with projected hold and break up/down analysis - available via the TennisRatings Tier Two Daily Spreadsheets - being one way of doing so.  There are plenty of other indicators too, but I'll keep those for a rainy day right now...

However, one further way we can look at identifying future situations is historical analysis of previous relevant situational data - for example, we can look at how matches pan out in the second set after we know what the result of the first set is.

Now at this point it's important to note that the Betfair market does adjust for scoreline variances in its 'set price' of a player when they are a set up.  A player winning the first set 6-0 will be shorter than a player with the same starting price winning the set 7-6, because they are deemed to be more dominant due to that scoreline, and therefore perceived to have a bigger chance of winning set two, on that basis.

Having said that, many bettors, traders and tennis fans have a perception of WTA matches having bizarre scorelines, with the 6-0 1-6 6-1 type scoreline being frequently referred to as a 'WTA scoreline'.  Admittedly this did seem to occur quite often but instead of dealing in subjective speculation, which I prefer not to do, I decided to check out the results of the 2014 season to see what happened in the second sets of matches when we knew the first set score.

The sample for the table below is the entire 2014 WTA season up until the recent US Open:-

Set 1 Score Set 2 Score
6-0 6-1 6-2 6-3 6-4 7-5 7-6 0-6 1-6 2-6 3-6 4-6 5-7 6-7
6-0 8 13 18 8 7 3 9 2 2 6 4 2
6-1 16 20 35 40 37 15 14 3 6 8 20 14 12 6
6-2 17 40 57 47 45 19 18 3 5 24 23 24 12 14
6-3 25 32 65 54 49 19 11 9 11 24 32 45 6 18
6-4 27 29 43 44 43 28 19 6 21 24 39 21 18 22
7-5 12 15 24 21 16 12 8 2 6 10 16 15 10 5
7-6 5 18 19 25 24 11 16 3 8 14 20 19 13 6
6.0 9.1 14.2 13.0 12.1 5.8 5.2 1.4 3.2 5.8 8.5 7.7 4.0 3.9

Sara Errani beat Venus Williams 6-0 0-6 7-6 in the US Open recently...

As we can see here, there were actually no instances of a 6-0 0-6 first two sets in the WTA up until the US Open.  Sara Errani (above, pictured) bucked this trend against Venus Williams in the US Open, however.

We can also see from the data that there were only two matches which went 6-0 1-6 and a further two which went 6-0 2-6, so the 'WTA Scoreline' phrase mentioned earlier is a clear 'gambler's fallacy' - when something is thought to happen more often than it actually does, because of it being so memorable.

The most common ten scorelines in the second set overall were (exact percentages at the bottom of the above table):-

1) 6-2 to 1st set winner
2) 6-3 to 1st set winner
3) 6-4 to 1st set winner
4) 6-1 to 1st set winner
5) 6-3 to 1st set loser
6) 6-4 to 1st set loser
7) 6-0 to 1st set winner
8=) 7-5 to 1st set winner
8=) 6-2 to 1st set loser
10) 7-6 to 1st set winner

It's obvious to see that 6-2, 6-3 and 6-4 are the most common scorelines in the second set, with both the winner and loser of the first set having those scorelines making it into the top ten overall scores.

This is also the case in set 1, from my research:-

Score First Set Score %
6-0 4.5
6-1 13.4
6-2 19.0
6-3 21.8
6-4 20.9
7-5 9.4
7-6 11.0

No doubt which are the most common scorelines in the WTA...

However, so far we haven't witnessed a great deal of things which can help from a trading perspective.  

The vast majority of swing traders will be looking for opportunities to lay the first set winner.  This gives them an entry position at a low price (usually odds on, or also described as 1.xx) which has a high potential to rise should the set go against the first set winner.  What we don't want is a match where the first set winner 'trains' into 1.01, and wins the match without a fight from their opponent.

This is very likely to be the case if the second set is won by a 6-0 to 6-2 scoreline, with the player which lost the first set highly unlikely to go a break up in the second set if the second set is decided by that margin.

Set 1 Score 6-0 to 6-2 2nd Set %
6-0 47.6
6-1 28.9
6-2 32.8
6-3 30.5
6-4 25.8
7-5 29.7
7-6 20.9

This information is highly valuable.  Almost 50% of the time we get an almost certain train when the first set is won 6-0, but there's a very small difference indeed from the 6-1 to 7-5 first set scorelines.  The likelihood of a train further decreases, by almost 5% from the 'next best' 6-4 scoreline, when the first set is won 7-6.  Therefore it can be assumed that if the first set ends 7-6 in the WTA, you will have a very high chance of trading out of your position with at least some profit during the second set.

Set 1 Score 6-4/7-5/7-6/lost 2nd
set when won 1st %
6-0 42.7
6-1 54.9
6-2 53.7
6-3 56.0
6-4 62.8
7-5 58.1
7-6 66.7

On the flip-side, we can see that there is a very low percentage of outcomes which ended in either a 6-4/7-5/7-6 win or loss of the second set for the 6-0 first set winner.

These 6-4+ scorelines are useful because it's very unlikely in the WTA that a player wins the match by virtue of a single break in a set - there are almost always more than one break in the set. 

Using that knowledge it's possible to 'average down' positions where the first set winner has been laid after the first set, when they go a set and break up.  If they lose that break lead, averaging down has generated a lower lay price than back price, and has developed a profit-taking opportunity.

This would be an excellent strategy when the first set ends 6-4 or 7-6, in particular.

Obviously, the first set winner losing the second set would be an ideal situation for swing trader and it's interesting to note the statistics on that, based on the first set scoreline:-

Set 1 Score Lost 2nd Set %
6-0 19.5
6-1 28.0
6-2 30.2
6-3 36.3
6-4 39.3
7-5 37.2
7-6 41.3

There is clear upward movement from 6-0 to 7-6, apart from at 7-5.  Consistently throughout this analysis, winning the set 7-5 appears to give the winner a slightly better chance in set 2, than doing so 6-4.  The reasons for this are unclear, with my only explanation being that the 7-5 loser goes mentally walkabout due to losing the set after being so close to a tiebreak.

With the WTA mean for the sample for 2nd set winners after they lost the first set being 34.5%, we can see that the first set finishing 7-6 gives the loser a 6.8% bigger chance than average of winning set two.  Conversely, a player who gets bagelled in set one has a 15.0% smaller chance than average of doing so.

The final area I wanted to analyse is the pressure situations at the end of the set.  By definition, this could be when the set is poised at 5-5.  Both players have one service game to negotiate prior to a tiebreak, or the end of the set.

At a set up and 5-5, the leader in the match will still be trading at a low price and in all likelihood, a fairly similar price to at the start of the set.  Should we be able to identify a trend, this would give us another low-risk entry point with a potential high reward:-

Set 1 Score From 5-5 in Set 2
6-0 85.7
6-1 61.7
6-2 58.7
6-3 55.6
6-4 54.0
7-5 57.1
7-6 58.7

We can absolutely forget laying the player who is 6-0 5-5 up.  From a small sample, they won the second set 85.7% of the time.  

However, after 6-1 is also discounted, all other scorelines have a sub-60% success rate for the winner of set one for taking set two, with there being generally similar percentages from 6-2 to 7-6.  6-4 5-5 (54.0%) had the lowest success for the leader, and should other indicators also favour entering, this should get us a superb low-risk high-reward entry point which yields a profit around 50% of the time, if not more.

Finally, how does the 2nd set tiebreak scenario look?  This could provide another low-risk, high-reward entry point for laying the player who is a set and 6-6 up in the match.  Overall the sample found that the player who was a set up won the second set tiebreak 57.2%, but how did the individual scorelines fare?

Set 1 Score 1st Set Winner
Wins 2nd Set TB %
6-0 100.0
6-1 70.0
6-2 56.3
6-3 37.9
6-4 46.3
7-5 61.5
7-6 72.7

Interestingly, if a graph of this was plotted, it would be in a reverse-bell shape.  Players who have a 6-2, 6-3, or 6-4 first set win have poorer than average records in tiebreaks whilst those who won the set 6-0, 6-1, 7-5, or 7-6 are much stronger in this situation.

Whilst this might appear odd initially, actually it makes perfect logical sense.  As previously explained, those who won the first set 6-0 and 6-1 have exhibited previous strong dominance so it's very logical that they are stronger - almost certainly they will be the 'better' player.

Less obvious is why players who lost the first set 7-5 or 7-6 struggled.  I believe the reasons here are solely mental - they've already lost a tight set so they have the extra baggage that goes with that, from a mental perspective.  Certainly it would seem that if one player nicked a tight first set, they are more likely than average to do so again in the second set.

Overall this should provide readers with an excellent grounding of how to trade the second set of a Tennis match, and some strong entry points or perhaps ideas for future analysis.
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