Raonic vs Isner - Are They Really Similar?

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For the purposes of my latest article I wanted to assess two relatively similar players with a view to seeing if their handicap stats were also similar, and hence analysing whether there is an edge to treating either player very differently in the pre-match handicap markets.

Milos Raonic and John Isner are the two highest ranked generic 'big servers', with Raonic's semi-final at Wimbledon elevating him to a career-best six in the world, whilst the older Isner has been a long-term top 20 player, peaking at nine in April 2012.  The American currently stands at 12 in the latest world rankings, published on the 7th July, 2014.

Milos Raonic's superb Wimbledon has improved his ranking to sixth in the world...

In the last 12 months, the player's general statistics have remarkable similarity:-

Milos John
Raonic Isner
Age 23 29
Ranking 6 12
12 Month Overall W/L  48-19 (72%) 45-21 (68%)
12 Month Overall Hold %  91.2 92.3
12 Month Overall Break %  16.9 10.3
Loses Break Lead % 17.5 17.0
Recovers Break Deficit % 28.9 31.0

As can be seen by the above stats, Raonic marginally edges the pre-match betting stats with a slightly better win percentage, as well as a better combined hold/break percentage, with the Canadian holding 1.1% less but breaking 6.6% more.

However, it's Isner with slightly better in-play stats, indicating that he has a better mentality during matches, losing a break lead 0.5% less and recovering break deficits 2.1% more.  What is also worth mentioning that both players' break deficit recovery stats are very marginally below ATP mean, which whilst initially sounding unimpressive, is actually quite a decent achievement considering how rarely these players actually break opponent's serves.

Overall, it's pretty clear to see there's not a great deal between the two players in any area, so it's definitely very reasonable to class these players as very similar.

Having established this, the next step is to assess whether either player has vastly different handicap stats to each other, and if so, this should enable us to have an edge over the market in handicap betting.  

Given the strong similarities between the two players, it's very likely that both players will have very similar handicap lines in similarly priced matches, and this could be a big mistake on the part of the oddsmakers...


How often does either player cover the standard price range mid-line?

It's Raonic with the edge here - he covered the standard mid-line 46.7% from June 2013 to June 2014, with Isner lower at 36.5%.  The Canadian also had an edge in this area, both as SP favourite and underdog, covering 36.4% as favourite and 75.0% as underdog, compared to Isner's respective percentages of 31.6% and 50.0%.  

What can be seen here is that both players are better at covering game handicaps as underdogs than favourites - not a huge surprise given their serve can usually keep sets close even against elite players. 


How often does either player cover the various set handicap bets?

In the same period, Isner won at least a set in 83.3% of matches, and this rose to 90.0% as favourite.  These numbers are stellar - the ATP mean on the Ultimate Pre-Match Spreadsheet shows the average player wins at least a set 71.5% overall, and 82.4% as favourite.

Raonic's stats were lower in this area, winning at least a set 75.0% of the time, and 78.8% as a favourite. 

On this basis, it would seem that backing Isner when a set down as favourite would be more viable than backing Raonic in the same position.

The ATP average for winning 2-0 in sets as favourite was 46.6% in the same time period - however Isner's percentage was low at 35.0%.  Raonic's was close to mean at 45.5%.  It's therefore very fair to assume that backing Isner to win 2-1 at big odds is a viable proposition when he represents pre-match value, and also that laying him a set up could also be worthwhile.

John Isner wins matches in straight sets much less than the average player...

As an underdog, Raonic won at least a set 58.3% with Isner a touch higher at 64.3%.  This are both a little above the ATP average of 56.2%, and therefore backing Isner on the set handicap when a value underdog looks a good proposition.


How often does either player cover the over/under lines?

Isner covered the standard price range mid-line a huge 70.4% (72.5% as favourite and 64.3% as underdog), with Raonic doing so much less at 44.4% (45.5% as favourite and 41.7% as underdog).

It's important to make the point that these two players matches don't usually get offered the standard price range mid-line as a total because of their well-known tendencies to have tight matches - their totals will usually be higher than the average player, looking at these stats.

With this also borne in mind, it's very fair to want to look at backing under x games in Raonic's matches.


How often does either player cover various first set bet lines?

In the ATP in the time period mentioned above, over 9.5 games occurred 51.6% of the time.  

Isner's stats were incredible - he went over 84.1%, which was the biggest on tour by some distance.  Raonic was lower, but still high at 67.3%.  As with the over/under game totals previously mentioned, these players will generally be priced defensively by the layers, but Isner is still likely to be bigger odds than the implied odds of 1.19 to cover 9.5 games in the first set...

He was also consistent at covering this line whether favourite (83.0%) and underdog (87.5%), although Raonic's stats differed wildly.  He covered this line as handicap 61.4% of the time, but as an underdog his percentage was huge, at 90.9%.  Backing over 9.5 games in the first set when Raonic is an underdog looks to have some scope.

Both players also had tiebreaks as a central part of their matches.  

This isn't a surprise, given the tight nature of their sets and matches, but the statistics are incredible.  Whilst the average ATP match has 19.3% of tiebreaks in the first set, Raonic's matches featured a first set tiebreak 36.4% of the time.  This is one of the highest in the ATP, but nothing compared to Isner's 52.4%.  Very rarely will the first set tiebreak be priced as a favourite pre-match, so backing the first set tiebreak in Isner's matches looks a great proposition.  

With both players rarely losing a break lead, and both recovering break deficits less than average, backing 'no breaks in the first set' with bookmakers at even bigger odds looks a superb plan as well for Isner in particular.

Clearly both players are not nearly as identical in their handicap trends as might have been assumed and I hope this has given readers an idea of how to use statistics to look at handicap betting.

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