Most casual observers to tennis will watch a match on TV, or check a scoreline on a live scoring website, and draw a simple conclusion – the surface which the match is due to be played on, be it grass, hard court (outdoor or indoor), or clay.
What is the quickest type of tennis court?
On a general basis, grass is the quickest court type, followed by indoor hard, then outdoor hard and then clay, but in order to try and get an edge on well-considered handicap markets, looking at this from a general basis simply isn’t digging deep enough.
The same court type (e.g. hard court) will be listed for different tournaments, but there are often considerably different dynamics between each venue. For example, a hard court venue may choose to use Decoturf, Playpave or Plexicushion, amongst others. Green and red clay also have very different characteristics.
In addition a variety of tennis balls can be used, with some lending themselves to faster speeds than others – knowing what court and ball type will be used in advance, and the effect of these, is naturally beneficial.
We do not have to only consider this either – we also need to take into account that some tournaments are played at altitude.
While we’ve sadly seen the demise of the real altitude tournaments in Bogota and Quito, there are still several tournaments played at reasonable altitude, including the clay event held in Madrid, plus several Alpine resort tournaments in Europe, played in Gstaad and Kitzbuhel.
Altitude generally makes the ball travel quicker through the air, giving benefit to big-servers, and boosting service numbers on the whole.
How can bettors measure court speed?
Several metrics which bettors can use to measure court speed are aces per game, service points won % and service hold %.
Higher numbers in these three metrics indicate historical venue conditions are fast, and this information can then lend itself to bettors for an angle, which can be factored in, along with other research, for the betting markets, and in particular, the handicap markets.
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From the three most recently completed seasons spanning 2016 to 2018, it was possible to generate a list of the quickest venues (non Grand-Slam).
These had service points won percentages of 65.2% or greater – a useful number to assess as it was 1.5% or greater above the ATP all-surface mean service points won percentage of 63.7%. Here is some data (taken from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons, from these tournaments:-
In addition, it was possible to profile the slowest venues on tour, and these were the events with a service points won percentage of 62.2% or below, and here is the data for those events, using the same metrics:
Looking at the overall numbers between fast venues and slow venues, we can see that the sets per match between fast and slow events was virtually identical, at around 2 and a third sets per match, but there was over one game per match played on average in quick courts, suggesting that sets played at fast venues lasted longer, and were of a tighter nature in general.
Fast venues had an average of 10.19 games per set (peaking at 10.44 at Queens Club) while slow venues had an average of 9.70 games per set (with the 9.52 at Monte Carlo the lowest).
Furthermore, there were considerably more tiebreaks played at fast venues, with an average of 0.53 per match played at fast venues compared to a mere 0.31 per match at slow venues, and it’s worth noting that not a single slow venue had a higher tiebreak per match figure than any of the fast venues.
Bearing these statistics in mind, it is evident that bettors need to factor in the likely court speed of particular venues when looking at handicap and totals betting.
Fast venues are likely to produce high total games and tighter matches in general, while slower courts are more likely to produce more sets decided by larger margins – perhaps by a double break – and therefore produce bigger game handicap differences between the winners and losers of matches in general.