Grass court tennis: Which players specialise on the surface?

With Wimbledon just around the…

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With Wimbledon just around the corner, our resident tennis expert Dan Weston article looks at the dynamics of grass court tennis and which players tend to specialise on the surface.

  • What type of player benefits from a grass court?
  • Which tennis players perform best on grass?
  • Where might bettors find value in grass court betting?

The grass court season is the shortest of all surfaces on the tennis tour, with there now being three weeks of warm-up events prior to the two week Grand Slam, at Wimbledon.

Following this, there is a very low-profile men’s grass tournament in Newport, USA, although the entry list for this tends to be quite weak with it taking place in a different continent immediately after a major.

What type of players benefit from grass courts?

However, there are enough tournaments for us to make some assertions about conditions on grass in general, with the surface producing the biggest advantage for serving of all the various surfaces on tour.

The table below illustrates the service points won percentages and aces per game figures across the four major surfaces on the ATP Tour.

Surface 24 month service points won % 24 month aces per game
Grass 66.2 0.64
Indoor hard 64.7 0.61
Outdoor hard 64 0.57
Clay 62.1 0.36

Do grass courts benefit big servers?

Here we can see that on grass, there are a higher percentage of service points won as well as there being more aces per game served. In theory, this should benefit big servers in particular, although it’s worth noting that the long sets and often tiebreak-driven four and five set matches at Wimbledon do not do them any favours with regards to accumulated fatigue as the tournament progresses.

With more service points won on grass than the average tournament, fewer breaks of serve tend to occur.

More tiebreaks are also likely (0.22 per set on grass, as opposed to 0.16 on clay, for example), and sets are much more frequently won by a single break, or via a tiebreak, compared to other surfaces.

Propensity towards tighter sets on grass should be considered when looking for value on the game handicap markets.

Which tennis players perform best on grass?

Such conditions assist a type of player known as a grass court specialist – players who consistently outperform their ability on other surfaces on grass, as opposed to other surfaces.

A list of top 100 ATP Tour players (minimum 10 main tour matches played on grass in the last 24 months, at June 24, 2019) with considerably better statistics on grass, as opposed to other surfaces, are as follows:

Player 24 month grass service points won % 24 month grass return points won % 24 month grass combined points won % 24 month all-surface service points won % 24 month all-surface return points won % 24 month all-surface combined points won % Combined points won % difference
Marin Cilic 75.6 36.9 112.5 68.0 37.9 105.9 6.6
Matt Ebden 64.9 38.2 103.1 62.5 36.0 98.5 4.6
Bernard Tomic 65.2 33.8 99.0 62.3 32.9 95.2 3.8
Feliciano Lopez 71.3 30.8 102.1 66.3 32.4 98.7 3.4
Roger Federer 75.6 38.3 113.9 72.2 38.7 110.9 3.0
Jeremy Chardy 69.5 32.5 102.0 65.3 34.2 99.5 2.5
Andreas Seppi 67.1 34.8 101.9 63.0 36.4 99.4 2.5
Milos Raonic 75.4 32.8 108.2 73.3 33.1 106.4 1.8
Kyle Edmund 68.1 35.5 103.6 65.5 36.4 101.9 1.7
Steve Johnson 65.8 35.3 101.1 65.5 34.0 99.5 1.6

The 10 players listed above all possess a combined service and return points won percentage of greater than 1.5% on grass compared to on all surfaces, and are the main grass court specialists on the ATP Tour.

In addition to this list, the likes of Adrian Mannarino and Lucas Pouille have achieved good results on the surface but haven’t particularly improved on their statistics, while Dan Evans probably also fits into this bracket of grass court specialists, although most of his success has been on the second tier Challenger Tour in the last couple of years.

Both Grigor Dimitrov and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have also been successful on grass historically, but have struggled a little in recent years with injury and form.

Most of the 10 players listed will be well known to most followers of tennis as players who are either very competent on grass, or relatively more competent on the surface compared to their overall ability – there really are no shocks in the above list with these players having exhibited a strong level on the surface throughout many years.

Where might bettors find value in grass court betting?

With this in mind, it is interesting to see whether the market has accurately assessed their level on the surface across the last 24 months, with the table below showing the profit and loss figures for each of these players on grass during this time period based on a hypothetical £100 bet at Pinnacle closing prices.

Player Matches played P&L ROI %
Marin Cilic 16 149 9.31
Matt Ebden 19 440 23.16
Bernard Tomic 11 -70 -6.36
Feliciano Lopez 13 281 21.62
Roger Federer 26 96 3.69
Jeremy Chardy 14 -69 -4.93
Andreas Seppi 17 -322 -18.94
Milos Raonic 22 151 6.86
Kyle Edmund 11 -352 -32.00
Steve Johnson 16 -248 -15.50
Overall 165 56 0.34

Here we can see that there has been a negligible return backing these 10 grass court specialists at PInnacle closing prices, with a return of 0.34% ROI being generated when backing with flat stakes.

This isn’t necessarily suggesting that there isn’t an edge when looking purely for grass court specialists – the sample beat the margin by a few percent – but as is usually the case, extra research into particular match-ups is required.

Understanding a player’s ability on the surface, and why they are likely to perform well in those particular conditions, is vital when assessing the viability of a pre-match bet, and hopefully this article has helped with ideas to look at players and conditions in advance of Wimbledon, starting next week in London.

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