Back in the 1970s & '80s, tennis was easily one of the most popular sports in the United States. That’s because Americans were dominating the sport around the world behind the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors on the men’s side and Chris Evert among the women.
Sadly, the interest has fallen way off in the USA this century – especially among the men. For whatever reason, American men have fallen way behind their competitors. Did you know that no U.S. man has won a Grand Slam tournament since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open? No American man has reached a Grand Slam final since Roddick at Wimbledon in 2009. Shoot, no American man even reached a semifinal after that until Sam Querrey at Wimbledon in 2017.
How can this be from a country of all-time greats like McEnroe, Connors, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, among other? The women’s side would be just as depressing if it weren’t for Serena Williams and sister Venus, and their careers are nearly over.
Tennis betting, then, has taken a nosedive in this country. However, it’s still generally in the Top 4 worldwide in terms of overall action with soccer, American football and basketball. The great thing about wagering on tennis is that it’s built for live betting and there’s always an event going on somewhere in the world. Just, perhaps, don’t bet on an American other than Serena to win a tournament for a while.
The tennis events that take the biggest action worldwide by far, and the four that draw the most American attention are the Grand Slams: Australian Open (Melbourne), French Open (Paris), Wimbledon (London) and U.S. Open (New York). Wimbledon is considered the most prestigious major championship and the only one played on grass.
There are two annual team events in tennis as well involving country vs. country: Davis Cup (men) and Fed Cup (women).
Types Of Bets
We’re going to assume if you are reading this that you understand the actual rules of tennis – it’s a fairly simple sport to learn the rules of, compared to golf or hockey (why those two sports don’t do that well from a betting standpoint in the USA).
Before a match starts, there are generally five main types of wagering: match betting, totals (over/under), match spread, set betting and tournament winner.
Let’s use a hypothetical match between all-time greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as an example. Sportsbooks will list three primary ways of betting this match without clicking further: spread, moneyline to win and over/under total.
The moneyline is the easiest number, and let’s say Federer is priced at -225 and Nadal at +175 to win the match – most men’s matches are best of 5, and all women’s matches are best of 3. One would have to bet $225 on the favored Federer to win $100, while a $100 bet on the underdog Nadal would return +175. Doesn’t matter whether Federer wins 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 or in a fifth-set tiebreak, as long as he does win, a Federer wager would cash.
The spread is total games won in the match. Between two evenly-matched players, the game spread could be as low as -1.5 – generally a half game is added to avoid a “push” or tie, where the money is returned. For the Federer-Nadal example, let’s say Federer was priced at -2.5 (-130) and Nadal +2.5 (-110). A $130 bet on Federer would return $100 as long as he beats Nadal by at least three games. Say the final score is 7-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. That’s a three-game advantage for Federer.
The total would be the total games played in the entire match, and again that can vary greatly depending on whether the players are evenly-matched or whether it’s best of 5 or bets of 3. A match featuring Serena Williams against an unknown player could feature a total of just 15.5, meaning the sportsbooks expect something like a 6-2, 6-1 whitewashing. Again, the over and under for each total will be assigned a moneyline price.
The most popular futures bet is simply odds on a player to win the tournament. In most tournaments, a player has to win six matches to be claimed champion. Roger Federer could be +200 to win Wimbledon with Rafael Nadal at +350 and Novak Djokovic at +350.
All matches will also offer a first-set winning price before the match along with a games spread in that set and the exact set score. Other popular props are over/under games won by each player; which player has the first service break; will a player lose the first set and still win the match; first service game results for each player; first player to serve a game to love; first service game taken to deuce; will there be a tiebreak in the match? There are many more options, but those are the basics.
Tennis was truly made for live betting with the proliferation of high-speed Internet. Bettors can wager point-by-point if they choose.
If betting on a player to win a tournament, the draw is hugely important. If one top player has a potentially easier route to the final than another, it could result in a much better-rested in the final.
Two clear strategies stand out in betting tennis: A player’s history on a type of court and his/her head-to-head history against an opponent. The four court surfaces used on the main tours are hardcourt, clay, carpet and grass. The French Open is played on clay, and Rafael Nadal wins that major just about every year because he’s the greatest clay-court player in the history of the sport. He grew up playing on clay in Spain. Most Americans aren’t used to clay, which slows down the ball.
Federer prefers the way the ball plays on the grass, which as noted above is only used at Wimbledon among the four majors. On the flip side, Federer does not like playing on the clay and has won the French Open just once in his amazing career.
Head-to-head statistics are easily available on the ATP and WTA sites. Nadal, for example, is 23-15 all-time vs. Federer. It’s also important to specialize in betting on tennis. There are so many matches ongoing around the world at any given time, it’s best to focus on what you know and not just throw a dart at the board, so to speak.
History has shown that strong returners perform better than big servers as large underdogs. Big servers generally prefer grass and hard courts.
Federer has won 20 Grand Slam titles, the most of all-time, and a record eight at Wimbledon – he prefers grass as noted. Nadal, the clay-court maestro, has won an astonishing 11 French Open titles. Nadal is the first player in the Open era, male or female, to win the same Grand Slam tournament 11 times.
The only times Nadal didn’t win the French since 2005 were in 2009 & ’15. One of the biggest upsets in tennis history was when Robin Soderling beat Nadal in the 2009 French Open’s fourth round. Soderling was +4800 to win the match when it opened; by comparison, Buster Douglas was +4200 when he upset Mike Tyson. Nadal’s only other loss in the French Open, ever, was to Novak Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinals. Nadal is second all-time with 17 Grand Slam titles.