Form Workload and Injuries in Tennis
Form, Workload and Injuries: Handicapping Player Fitness
If you want to become an expert tennis handicapper, you must go beyond the obvious and look for things that the public money (or sometimes, the sportsbooks themselves) have missed.
Granted, even the “obvious” factors aren’t always easy to weigh; figuring out the exact odds you want to lay considering the talent gap between two players, the surface the match is playing on, and the head-to-head tendencies of the two players in question is difficult enough on its own right.
However, there are also some other variables that are slightly hidden, but should also have an impact on how you handicap tennis matches. The most prominent of these is the fitness of the players.
This is a complex topic that encompasses a few different factors, some of which are likely to be overlooked by many observers, but which all sharp tennis bettors pay careful attention to. The following a just a few of the fitness areas you should look at when handicapping.
We touched a bit on form in our article on surfaces. To recap what we said there, you should certainly give extra credit to good players (the kind you’d expect to win a couple rounds at most majors, but who are unlikely to win a Grand Slam tournament) who specialize on a particular surface during the season in which their surface is most played.
For instance, a clay-court specialist is very likely to plan their schedule and training so that they will be in top form for the French Open. However, this will also have the side effect of putting them in great form for tournaments just before and after Roland Garros; look for these players to exceed expectations for a few weeks around their biggest stage, even on other surfaces.
One other use of form is a little more obvious. If a player has been outperforming their historical results for the last few events they’ve played in, you may want to upgrade your opinion of that player, at least until you see something that suggests otherwise.
A player who looks good in just one event may have just had a great week; a player who has repeated success for several events may be in the best form of their career and ready to show consistently better results.
While some players on tour focus simply on their singles career, many play doubles or mixed doubles (or, occasionally, both) – even at major events. This extra workload can often cause a player to tire over the course of a long tournament, particularly if they’re faced with the unenviable task of playing matches every day for a week or more.
Workload is a difficult area to assess, as some players are better at handling the added work than others (for a high-profile example, the Williams sisters have often won doubles and singles titles at the same Grand Slam event!).
If you’re not sure how a player will handle an added workload, be sure to take a look at exactly how much play they’ve had to deal with. Did they have off days in their schedules?
Did they play long matches, or have they beaten their opponents routinely? The fewer sets the player has had to deal with, and the more rest they’ve had (especially over the last 24-48 hours), the more likely you should be to discount their workload. Conversely, older players or those known for having weak conditioning are more susceptible to workload issues.
Injuries must absolutely be a part of your handicapping. Obviously, a serious injury isn’t a big problem; if the player is so hurt that they won’t play, you’ll know that ahead of time. More problematic are nagging injuries that may affect a player’s ability to move around the court, but won’t stop them from playing entirely.
These kinds of injuries are generally a bigger issue when handicapping matches between players who you’d expect to play a close match (when healthy) than in matches where one player is a clear favorite.
For one, a far superior player who is faced with an injury will probably find ways to win even if they’re not actually at their best. However, a less obvious issue is the fact that evenly-matched players play longer matches on average. While an injured player may be able to play through an injury early in a match, it’s much more difficult to continue ignoring its effects in the 4th and 5th sets, especially as fatigue sets in and the pain from the injury becomes more intense.
Regardless of the players involved in a match, injuries should always cause you to pause before betting for another reason. A player who is known to be injured is more likely to retire during a match than one that is assumed to be healthy.
This is not always a significant risk, however, so you’ll need to be certain about the extent of the injury before factoring this into your handicapping. The importance of the match is also a factor here; a relatively minor injury may cause a walkover during a match in a warm-up event, but most players would rather fight through even a serious injury than retire in a Grand Slam semi-final.