Tennis Betting: Monte Carlo Masters
The good news is that tennis usually produces the "right" or "just" result because the better player nearly always wins
Irrespective of what Match Point director Woody Allen may think, the best tennis players win time and time again, with luck having little to do with it, something Ed Smith considers essential to remember ahead of the Monte Carlo Masters.
Woody Allen's obsession with luck is a theme he returns to again and again, most memorably in Match Point, which opens with a scene at the exclusive London sports' club, Queen's.
The film opens with a tennis ball balancing on top of the net cord about to topple back onto one side of the net or the other. From the players' perspective, the time for skill and effort was all over. It was down to pure chance. Sport, Allen suggests, is just like life:
The man who said "I'd rather be lucky than good" saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It's scary to think so much is out of one's control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win. Or maybe it doesn't, and you lose.
I agree with the sentiment, but the details are technically untrue.
To win a match in tennis you must win by two clear points; a margin of one point is never sufficient. So there is a never a time when a ball balancing on the net could determine a match point that applied simultaneously to both players.
It's not just logic-chopping. There is a deeper objection to choosing tennis to illustrate the role of luck in sport. Tennis, like all sports, undoubtedly has moments that are dominated by luck. There are umpiring mistakes and moments when the ball balances on top of the net. But how often do those moments of luck prove critical, how often are tennis results really determined by luck?
Not often. Imagine a continuum of all sports based on the ratio of luck:skill. Roulette is at the "pure luck" end of the spectrum. Chess - in which there is no dice, no pack of cards, and no intervention by external conditions - is at the "pure skill" end of the scale.
Tennis is very far towards the skill side (sorry, Woody.) We know this because the best players usually win. At the peak of their dominance, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer won 19 of 22 Grand Slams going. That is an astonishing degree of predictability, even taking into account the superlative skill of Federer and Nadal. In 2011, of course, one man alone dominated: Novak Djokovic, who strung together a 43-match winning streak and collected three majors.
So we learn that the random element in tennis - umpiring mistakes, net cords, mishits that end up as winners - is rarely strong enough to dislodge the supremacy of the best players. Borg won Wimbledon five times in a row; so too did Federer. Four players - Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer - have held the number one world ranking for five years or more.
The good news is that tennis usually produces the "right" or "just" result because the better player nearly always wins. The bad news is that tennis can suffer from a lack of dramatic uncertainty. That's why tennis is prone to periods of dynastic dominance, in which the leading player is rarely dislodged.
Extracted from Ed Smith's new book Luck - what it means and why it matters (Bloomsbury)
That is why tennis is a good sport for backing favoruites. And at [2.5] at Monte Carlo this week, Djokovic is a good bet. Yes, Nadal is a fine clay court player, arguably the best-ever as we all know, but Djokovic has beaten him in their previous seven finals. And while Nadal pushed Djokovic much harder at Melbourne this year than he managed in their 2011 finals, he has still yet to find a chink in the Serb's game.
Though Nadal has an overall 9-2 record in clay court head-to-heads, Djokovic's two triumphs have come in their last two meetings, as part of the Serb's recent dominance.
Moreover, Federer - who was the first player to beat Djokovic during his epic 2011 streak - has typically caused Djokovic more problems than Nadal, even on clay, Federer's least favourite surface. The Fed Express beat Djokovic in the semi-final at the French Open last year, dominating the Serb in way that Nadal has not been able to do. Crucially, Federer is not in the field at Monte Carlo.
So it's a sport with low uncertainty, in which the favoruite often prevails, and in this instance the world number one's least favourite opponent is absent.
Time to back Novak.