Tennis Betting: Players are only as good as their weaknesses
Knowing where players strengths lie will enable you to make quick in-running trades whilst others are fumbling through their form books, says Matthew Walton.
The key to any player making it to the top of the men's game is to be a solid, all-round game. If not, any weakness is going to be spotted, targeted and exploited by opponents - making progress up the rankings nigh on impossible.
And this breaks down to the fundamentals of the game - forehand and backhand, at the net or on the baseline, overhead, volleying or basic groundstrokes. Each particular area needs to be as good as it possibly can be in order for a player to aspire to the higher echelons of the game.
The same, of course, applies in other sports. Footballers who lack pace, golfers who suffer from the yips, boxers who can't take a punch - all these failings will hold them back in their respective careers.
As far as tennis is concerned, the most basic areas of performance are simply those of service and return. How many points (or how many games) does a player win when he's either facing serve or starting the play himself. If a guy can't compete in either, or preferably both, of these areas then he's going to struggle to make an impact on tour.
When it comes to service statistics, we find that the spread of data is quite limited - proportionately speaking.
Rafael Nadal, for example, wins 88% of his service games. Roger Federer wins 89% and Novak Djokovic 87%. They are the best three players in the world.
However, you'll find players down in the 100's of the world rankings with similar statistics - e.g. Andreas Beck is 109th in the world but wins 87% of his service games, Frank Dancevic (130th) wins 81%, John Isner (144th) wins 88% and so on.
There actually aren't huge differences between players when it comes to serve. All are competent, at the very least, but some are simply better than others. A few get above 90% and a few dip into the low 60%'s but the band of statistics is reasonably narrow.
What about the return of serve? Nadal wins 33% of his return games, Federer 27% and Djokovic 30%.
Compare that to the rest of the tour and once outside of the top ten, the general success rate of players on the return of serve fluctuates around 15% to 25%. One or two are better (often the clay court players) but many are actually lower, dipping down to 10% and below.
Yes, you could highlight the world number 96, Chris Guccione, with a measly 6% but then Juan Ignacio Chela, down in 140th spot, has a return of serve success rate which runs at 30% - and that's better than Andy Murray!
Overall, it makes for a not dissimilar reading to the service data. A blanket of some 20% will include pretty much 90% of the players in the world's top 200.
The conclusion, thus far, seems to be that an isolated study of each area, serve and return, tells us very little of any great consequence. What then if we amalgamate the two fields of data into one?
Nadal with 88% on serve and 30% on return gives us a starting point of 118 then comes Federer 116 (89+27), Djokovic 117 (87+30) and Murray with 111 (82+29).
The rest of the top ten are made up with Davydenko (114), Tsonga (107), Simon (105), Roddick (111), Del Potro (115) and Blake (107).
All, roughly, are around 80% on serve and 25% on return. Very good in one area and very respectable in the other.
However, drop down to the players with rankings of 50 to 54 and you'll find Hanescu 97 (80+17), Ginepri 103 (78+25), Santoro 96 (74+22), Gulbis 102 (83+19) and Gicquel 99 (78+21).
Not a massive drop but a noticeable one. Players seem either moderate on both serve and return or markedly good on one but, correspondingly, rather bad on the other.
Dip down again into the rankings from 100 to 104 and you find Alberto Martin 89 (69+20), Pablo Andujar 95 (69+26), Filippo Volandri 92 (66+26), Brian Dabul 108 (82+26) and Kevin Anderson 99 (86+13).
Dabul has only played a handful of games and so is a bit misleading but Anderson is a prime example for our discussion - a great serve but a poor return makes for a moderate ranking.
No player, of course, will hold serve every single time. But the top players win enough of their opponent's service games to more than allow for the odd game they drop on their own serve.
Take an average three set match lasting, say, 30 games we see each player serving and returning 15 games each.
On the statistics, Nadal will win 13.20 service games (dropping 1.80) by virtue of his 88% success rate on serve. However, he'll win 4.50 games from his opponent (30% win rate on return) and lose 10.50 games. Add those two figures together and Rafa wins 17.70 games and loses just 12.30 - i.e. he wins the match.
Kevin Anderson, by the same rationale, would win 12.90 games on serve (86%) but secure only 1.95 games on return. That makes for an average of 14.85 games won and 15.15 lost - i.e. he'll lose the match.
It's the combination of the two sets of data (or the two parts of the game) which sorts out the men from the boys.
And so, when considering players for match betting purposes, even outright betting, it's just as important for you to assess the strength of their serve as it is the possible weakness of their return.
Furthermore, with regards to in-running betting, knowing which players are more or less comfortable in each facet of the game will enable you to determine your trades quickly whilst others are still fumbling through their formbooks!
Like all sports, a one-dimensional ability will only take you so far. It might get you noticed, might afford you a decent career but if you want to reach the very top of your game then an all-round ability is what matters. And this is what you should look out for in tennis betting, all-round ability will win out in the long run!