How does tennis handicap betting work?

By   | Last Updated :   July 5, 2021 | Filed In :   Tennis

Tennis is one of those sports that benefit from a global audience and a worldwide tournament structure. There are few countries on the planet that don’t host some form of high-level competitive tennis, and the exciting nature of the game, with its fast-paced action and head-to-head match-ups, makes for an enduringly popular spectator sport. 

Bookmakers have not been slow to spot this potential as the online sports betting revolution has unfolded over the last two decades. Tennis has formed an increasingly important part of their business, with markets offered on all major and minor tournaments, while in-play tennis betting has become the playground of many professional punters. This rise in popularity has also led to the creation of some innovative ways to bet on the sport, such as the handicap markets. 

What is handicap sports betting?

Handicap betting offers a way to bet on a sports event that doesn’t focus on the final score. This is attractive to many punters because the Match Winner markets are generally the most competitive. That’s where most of the action is, which can make it harder to find an edge, not least because bookmakers aim most of their resources at these markets. 

With a handicap bet, you are attempting to predict the extent of the winning margin, rather than trying to pick the winner of an event. In a handicap market, the favourite will be given a ‘handicap’ in the form of a notional points deficit, while the outsider will have a theoretical points advantage. This handicap is then added/subtracted from the actual score to determine the handicap result. 

How do tennis handicaps work?

woman playing tennis on clay court

Handicap betting began with relatively high scoring sports and leagues such as the NFL, rugby and basketball betting. In these sports, winning margins can go into double figures, making handicap betting a varied and interesting option for punters. 

But how do you apply the handicap principle to tennis?

Tennis matches are decided by sets, but even a marathon men’s match will only have feature five sets, while many women’s matches are decided in just two sets. Instead of using sets, bookmakers focus on games when drawing up their tennis handicap markets. This adds an extra element of complexity that is not present in handicap markets on other sports. 

In an NFL game, the team that scores the most points is the winner. The issue for the handicap punter is in deciding how closely the handicap quote reflects the likely winning margin. 

With tennis handicap betting, it is also generally the case that the player who wins the most games also wins the match. But not necessarily. Take the following game scoreline for a player who loses a three-set tennis match:

This player loses the match because they’ve lost 2-1 on sets. But adding up the game score separately from the set score, you will see they’ve actually won on games by a score of 15-14. This added complexity brings an extra dimension to tennis handicap betting. 

What is a +1 handicap in tennis betting?

A typical tennis handicap betting market might give you an option such as this:

In this case, if you bet on Roger Federer, an additional game will be added to his real-world total game score when working out the handicap result. This means that if Federer ends up with the same number of total games as Nadal, a bet on Federer will be a winner. This isn’t the only form of tennis handicap that you are likely to see, however. 

What is a +2.5 tennis handicap?

You may have been wondering, with the example above, what happens if the two players effectively finish level on games won? Let’s say Nadal wins on total games by 26-25. Subtracting the handicap from his total means that they finished with 25 games apiece. So who wins?

The answer is that nobody wins. In this scenario, known as a ‘push’, bets are refunded. Understandably, some punters prefer to have a more definitive solution to their betting markets, and bookmakers generally don’t like refunding stakes, so a more common tennis handicap betting market would involve a half-game element and could look like this:

With this betting market, a ‘push’ outcome is impossible, since no tennis player can win half a game, which means that all the bets on this market will have a winner, assuming that the game is finished. 

Is tennis handicap betting for me?

Tennis handicap betting has some advantages for those who are prepared to get into the detail of how a game is likely to progress, rather than simply assessing who is the most likely winner. It may not ultimately be something that you want to use regularly, but understanding how tennis handicap betting works can add an extra layer of understanding to your awareness both of the sport and of how you go about betting on it. Check out the William Hill Free Bet and get set for tennis handicap betting in the next majors tournament.

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