Playing the Percentages: Two Key Points to the Murray Djokovic US Open Final

The Mens 2012 US Open Final: Andy Murray vs Novak Djokovic

Murray’s first serve will be crucial

With Rafael Nadal pulling out through injury and Roger Federer knocked out in the Quarter Finals, it was always likely that the US Open final would feature Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Despite the latter being the reigning US Open champion and leading the head to head with Murray 8-6, all signs point to this match being an even, carefully balanced contest, which will be decided by a few key points.

The similarities between the two players are striking: born within a week of each other, they entered the top 100 together and reached the top 10 at roughly the same time. Both have won numerous Masters Series finals, made Grand Slam finals and generally done the most of any players on tour to disrupt the hegemony of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the top of the game.  Djokovic has five Grand Slam titles to his name, whereas Murray has four defeats in finals, picking up a lone set in an otherwise series of forgettable performances.

However, Murray has had a superb 2012, and has shown that he doesn’t fear Djokovic in the same way he did Roger Federer, when he seemed overwhelmed by the stature of the Swiss great in the 2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open Final. Murray should come out with plenty of belief, and there is a real chance of a classic final along the lines of their Australian Open encounter eight months ago, which finished 7-5 Djokovic in the fifth set. Here are two crucial factors which will decide tonight’s tie:

1. The First Serve % and the Return

Serve and return should be dealt with together as one entity when discussing a match up between players who return far better than they do serve.

In basic terms, Murray can hit his first serve considerably faster than Djokovic, but to the detriment of an poor first serve percentage. This is exacerbated by a weak second serve delivery, which opens the door for his opponents  to tee off on the return and put holes in Murray’s service games - and no one is better than Djokovic (at least since the retirement of Andre Agassi and the decline of Davydenko and Nalbandian) at hitting clean winners off opponent’s first serves.

If Muray serves well he will be able to keep Djokovic out of the majority of his service games (accounting for the occasional 130MPH down-the-T serve which Djokovic will invariably return back into the corner with added velocity). To do so, he will need to strike a fine balance between maintaining a healthy 60%+ first serve percentage without neutering the power of his serve. Murray serves best on the ad court, where he can get enormous pace on the out wide flat serve. It is on the deuce side where he struggles more; his slice serve is not one of the best, and his down-the-T serve can be inconsistent.

Djokovic on the other hand, doesn’t have quite the same ability to serve through Murray. He will probably be best off contuining his high first serve percentage strategy; rather than trying to ace the best returner in the game, he will hope to hit the corners of the service box and eleicit weak responses from Murray, which will be enough to put him on the front foot in the ensuing rally.

There is merit in the strategy of a high first serve percentage when playing Murray: no one in the game is better than the Scot at clawing back huge serves, and he is extremely difficult to ace. Djokovic therefore might be better off going for higher percentages on his first serve.

Djokovic has the superior 2nd serve but this is negated  by both mens outstanding returns. Getting the balance is key for both men. Murray will have to mix up his slice and T serve on the deuce court well enough to keep Djokovic guessing. Likewise, Novak may have to go for more on his first serves to ensure a few free points.

2. The forehand

Djokovic has fantastic rotation on his forehand, and generates considerably more topspin than Murray. This is partially aided by Djokovic having a more extreme grip. In theory Murray, with his more conservative semi-western grip, should find it easier to unleash flat forehand drives. However, he rarely opts to, and his forehand is certainly a weaker rallying shot compared to Djokovic’s.

Djokovic has a decided advantage in hitting the forehand from the ad court; while Murray has improved in this aspect, Djokovic has a superb inside out forehand, and his grip and motion seem more suited to hitting heavy inside out forehands. One area in which Murray has closed the gap is in the ‘inside-in’ forehand; previously he has been guilty of running around his backhand to hit a forehand up the line, not getting enough depth or pace on the shot, and leaving himself exposed cross court. With increased confidence on the forehand wing, he seems to have remedied this, hitting the shot with more conviction and power.

This match represents more of a challenge to Murray than his opponent; Djokovic will know that a repeat of his previous hard court Grand Slam performances against Murray will probably get the job done. For the Scot, he will have to serve smartly and well, and ensure that he hits his forehand with conviction.

TN


Video of the Week: an Ode to a Great Clay Courter

Having endured another predictable clay season dominated by the ferocious Rafael Nadal, it is curious to remember a time ten years ago when the clay field was relatively deep and competitive, with a number of good-to-great specialists and no single competitor a la Nadal, able to sweep aside the competition over the clay season for the loss of mere sets.

Corretja was part of a pack of players in the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s, who together comprised one of the greatest clay court fields of all time.  Among the Spanish contingent, there was also the eccentric Sergi Bruguera (winner of Roland Garros in 1993 & 1994), the forehand maestro Carlos Moya (winner in 1998), Albert Costa (Roland Garros champion in 2002),  Juan Carlos Ferrero (champion in 2003) and Alberto Berasategui. Other great clay specialists of the time included the charismatic Gustavo Kuerten (three time winner in 1997, 2000 & 2001), iron man Thomas Muster (1995 champion) and American Jim Courier (winner in 1991 & 1992). Added to this prestigous group were a number of non-clay specialists who nonetheless thrived on the red dirt – Andre Agassi, Andrei Medvedev, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Magnus Norman. Owing to the sheer depth of the clay game at the time, Corretja never managed to grab a French Open title, losing twice in the final, once to Moya in 1998, and once to Kuerten in 2001. Ironically for a clay court player, his greatest triumph came at the end of year Masters in 1998, on the ice-quick surface of Hanover.

While Corretja possessed all the physical and combative qualities necessary to succeed on clay, he also played with beautiful grace and panache. His single handed backhand was a reliable and gorgeous shot: with its magnificent sweep and unnverving consistency, it mocked the fact that he learned it relatively late in his career, switching over from a two-hander. Having started a glaring weakness in his game, it was honed to perfection in the course of his career, and seen here, is regal yet industrious at the same time. His forehand motion is not entirely dissimilar to that of Juan Monaco’s (currently one of the better clay players on tour). Both men hit with considerable clearance over the net and monstrous topspin, despite using a relatively conservative eastern grip – a peculiarity for clay players, who tend to opt for either a full western or at least semi-western grip.

An adaptable and well rounded player, Corretja held other qualities not usually associated with clay court players.  A fantastic returner, he twice beat Pete Sampras in big events, once on grass in Davis Cup Quarter Final, and once in semi finals of the end of year Masters. Clay courters of his grace and consistency are sorely lacking from today’s game.

TN


‘A Beginners Guide to Tennis Betting, Part 2′: A Guest Post by Jonathan Premachandra

The second of a two-part series guide to tennis betting, by Jonathan Premachandra (read part one here). Jonathan has an in-depth knowledge of sports betting, in particular tennis and cricket, and can be found on Twitter here.

In-Play Betting

This is a more lucrative form of sports betting and can even add excitement to one-sided lackluster matches such as the opening rounds of a Grand Slam. It can also be an effective way of making ‘safe’ money. There are various different betting strategies that one can employ when betting on in-play markets but I will start with the basics.

To bet in-play allows you to constantly change your mind about the outcome of a match, set, final score or even individual point winner. There are so many different things you can make calls on while the game is in play and these all continue to change, often after every single point in a game. For the sake of keeping things simple, we will just look at live betting on the outcome of an overall match.

For an example, let’s look at a typical game between Venus and Serena Williams, played in 2005 at a time when both sisters were very evenly matched, to a point the bookies could not choose a favorite and priced them both at 1.90 (10/11) before the match was played (there may have been slight variations depending on which bookmaker you used). As soon as Serena took the first break ,the odds shifted substantially, Venus became 2.5 (6/4) while Serena moved to 1.57 (4/7)  favourite. Now the match is still only in its first few games and Venus could easily break back and take the set, even if she doesn’t she could take the next set and be back in contention for the match. Provided she is not injured or having a really bad day, now would be a good time to back her. Lets say we put £10 on Venus at this point.

At this point we hope that she makes some sort of comeback and the odds ‘shift’ or ‘swing’ back the other way. Sure enough she breaks back and goes on to win a tight tie-break to take the set. Now she is the favorite and even more so than Serena was after that early break. Venus is now at 1.4 (2/5) while Serena is now at 3.0 (2/1). You could choose to leave it now and you would be about to see a return of £25 from your original bet if Venus goes on to win, however I would now advise a cover bet.

It is only one set down and the second one has yet to start, you could even wait for Venus to hold her serve before hedging your bets. So after Venus holds her serve in the first game of the second set, Serena is now at 3.5 (5/2) so you can now cover by putting maybe £7 on Serena which means you will get a return of £24.5 from a total stake of £17 for the match if Serena was to comeback and take the match from here (Note: if Venus wins you will still get £25 but now you have staked a total of £17). With this bet you have now locked in a minimum win of £7.50 and have no chance of losing money (if the match is called off, all bets are void and you get your money back). This is what is known as ‘locking in your winnings.’ You can continue to bet as long as you feel that the match still has potential to change in a way that causes the odds to swing.

Betting Summary

V. William vs S. Williams

Serena breaks at 2-2 and then holds to go 4-2 up

Venus is now underdog at 3.0 (2/1) – Bet £10 on Venus!

Venus breaks 5-3 down and holds to make it 5-5, they both hold and Venus then wins the tie-break to take the set.

Serena is now underdog at 3.5 (5/2) – bet £7 on Serena

So now a total of £17 has been staked..

If Serena wins, the return is £24.50 (£7×3.5)

If Venus wins, the return is £30 (£10×3)

Therefore you will be either £7.50 or £13 up.

The tricky part of this betting strategy is identifying swings in momentum and knowing when to back the underdog. It is far too easy to bet on a player who is a set down with odds of better than 2/1, however if they continue to lose, you will see no opportunity to cover your bet!

It is particularly profitable to use this tactic on an evenly contested game where the momentum is likely to shift back and forth, so pick matches where players are fairly evenly matched.

So choose carefully, do your research, look at how good the player in question is at fighting: are they in the gutless Tim Henman muold or would you liken them more to the stubborn Lleyton Hewit type player? Are they starting to hit their winners better? Is there first serve percentage improving? Can you really see them coming back after looking at how their opponent is playing? Is their opponent looking tired or suffering from a slight injury?

These are all things you need to consider before you make a call to back the underdog, the better you read these factors the more chance you have of locking in winnings by betting both ways.

However…

No matter how broad your knowledge of the game is and how much you analyse things, there is always a chance that something so unpredictable and so unforeseeable will happen that bookies and betters alike will be left stunned. A solid example of this is the Semi Final of the US Open in 2011 where Roger Federer was serving out for the match and 40-15 up. Most bookies stopped giving odds but some listed Djokovic at 40/1 before this point as a sort of ‘novelty’ bet. Why such steep odds? Because Federer only needed to find a solid first serve and that would be that. There is it was, a big first serve, for a split second the bookies could breath a sigh of relief, but what followed was indescribable:

Moral of the story: No matter what the circumstances, you can never be 100% sure about a bet, however if you stop yourself from being greedy and cover your bets when the opportunity presents itself, you can make a lot of money in the long run.

JP


Video of the Week: a look at Sergiy Stakhovsky

For a man who reached a career-high ranking of 31 in the world back in December 2010, remarkably little has been heard in the tennis press lately about Sergiy Stakhovsky.

This is surprising because not only does the Ukrainian possess a wonderfully old-school game, complete with cutting volleys and a vicious slice backhand, but he is also an affable and charismatic character. He speaks four languages in addition to his native Ukrainian – Czech, Russian, Slovak and English, the latter with what the flawless sensory perceptions of TennisNiche adjudges to be a charming mixture of Eastern European and East End Geezer, with a hit of of North American thrown in for good measure (Sergiy himself describes it as a mix of Canadian and British English- see this video to judge for yourself.)

Onto his tennis game:

He is one the current generation of players who has suffered the most from the overall slowing down of court surfaces. Of his four titles, two have come playing indoor (Zagreb in 2008 and St. Petersburg in 2009) and one on grass (‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2010). His captivating serve and volley game is almost tailor built for fast, low-bouncing surfaces, complemented by his flat groundstrokes and a knife-edged slice backhand, all of which makes his tennis very easy on the eye.

It is on the clay and slower hard courts, where he cannot approach the net as frequently, in which his play suffers. While his groundstrokes are technically sound, he can be inconsistent, particularly in longer rallies when his footwork is prone to breaking down. Having played a pure serve and volley game during juniors, he has had to adapt in seniors to play more at the baseline, befitting the current conditions of court surfaces in mens tennis. Seen in the video against Ryan Harrison (19 years old at the time), Stakhovsky is able to execute his wide array of shots against an inexperienced opponent who isn’t able to trap Stakhovsky behind the baseline with deep, consistent groundstrokes.

If Stakhovsky is to re-enter the top 50 (and looking further forward, to break the top 20), he will have to find the right balance between using his sophisticated serve and volley game and finding a greater consistency from the baseline when he is forced on the defensive. 

- TN


Match Report: Murray vs Tipsarevic

Some points on a fascinating contest in the Quarter Finals of the Miami Masters Series between Andy Murray and Janko Tipsarevic, two of the most consistent baseliners on tour.

Tipsarevic is typical of the modern baseline player, one who has no stand-out weapon but relies on great lateral movement (witness the Serb’s monster quads and calves), a strong two handed backhand and unerring consistency off both sides. Tipsarevic’s best asset is his serve – standing at 5’11 (180cm), he gets not only impressive pace (hitting upward of 130MPH on his first serve), but fantastic angles owing to the full extension he gets on the service action, especially on his serve out-wide from the Ad-court.

Murray is almost the perfect foil to the modern generic baseliner, possessesing a variety of ways in which he can approach each encounter. He is adept at playing the patient baseline game, yet with enough power to seize the initiative in a rally when he feels it’s falling from his control. Furthermore, against a dogged opponent like Tipsarevic who feeds off rhythm, he can turn to his coniserable array of ‘touch’ shots to disrupt his opponent. He can knife his backhand slice in either direction, or float it in the middle of the court to invite his opponent to the net. His drop shot is another effective tool – he perhaps over-uses it, but gets away with it due to his great composure and finesse on both passing shots and when drawn to the net himself.

Tipsarevic largely had the best of things in the first set, and he broke Murray at 4-4 to serve out the set 6-4. Murray cut a frustrated figure; he had been broken out of sheer impatience, and afterwards was seen complaining about his stomach. As he does so many times though, the Scot came back strongly in the second set,  cutting out his unforced errors and showing his gritty determination to out-last Tipsarevic.

If ruthless consistency and dogged consistency were the two base ingredients needed to compete with Tipsarevic on the slow courts of Miami, Murray then added his own flourishes to take the match above and beyond the level of Tipsarevic. In addition to the aforementioned touch shots, he was also hitting his forehand impressively, particularly when he chose to run around his backhand to hit it.  He unleashed on some huge inside-out forehands, and hit his inside-in forehand with surprising consistency. He dominated his opponent in forehand to forehand rallies and forced Tipsarevic to go for too much, too soon in the rally. Murray proceeded to take the second set fairly comfortably, 6-3.

Murray also yielded some great results from the drop shot. As stated, he has a tendency to abuse the drop shot, but against a strict baseliner like Tipsarevic, it can be an extremely effective tactic. The real difference in quality between the two players was illustrated at 1-1 in the third set, the game in which Murray took a crucial break of serve. Serving at game point 40-30, Tipsarevic elected to hit his first drop shot of the match – Murray got to the ball with enough time to caress a backhand slice up the line, covered the net with typical nous, anticipated Tipsarevic’s pass and put away a volley winner. A simple combination of shots, but executed with a composure and class which is just above Tipsarevic’s ability.

As the third set progressed, it became increasingly evident that Tipsarevic had no solution to Murray’s relentless barrage of power, guile and physicality. As a result he had resolved to become the master of his own fate, going for broke on his shots very early on in the rallies. While he succeeded with an aggressive approach in the first set, by this point he had neither the consistency nor the confidence to hit through Murray’s resolute defences.  He also made the decision to hit a very high percentage of first serves, a curious move considering his opponent is perhaps the best returner of first serves in the men’s game.  Ultimately Murray’s momentum was not to be stopped, and he triumphed 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

One area which Murray can still improve is his backhand down the line. For years he has been one of the best in the world at nailing his backhand down the line, causing havoc with his opponents rhythm by using it as a change of pace after a succession of slow, spinny shots. Curiously, he has started 2012 by improving his inside-out forehand but suffering an almost equal decline in his backhand down the line. If he can recall this world class shot, maintain a decent first serve percentage and keep a positive mental attitude, he has every chance of not only beating Nadal or Tsonga in the semi-finals, but winning his maiden Grand Slam in 2012.

TN


‘A Beginners Guide to Tennis Betting, Part 1′: A Guest Post by Jonathan Premachandra

The first in a two-part beginners guide to tennis betting, written by gambling prodigy Jonathan Premachandra. Jonathan has an in-depth knowledge of sports betting, in particular tennis and cricket, and can be found on Twitter here.

A Beginners Guide to Tennis Betting

As a keen follower of the game, you may be tempted to have the odd bet every now and then just to make things more interesting. It can certainly make even some of the dullest matches more captivating and you barely need to risk much to enjoy it. The principles of tennis betting can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make them but if you really want maximize your winnings, here’s some advice on how to go about it. This can be used by anyone who follows tennis and is looking to take a bit of extra money off their bookies.

Research 

Coming into a game, unless you are just betting for the fun of it, it is obviously important that you know about the players and have been following their form coming into the match. Most betting sites give you a list of their past matches and information of their head-to-head record with basic stats on every match coming into this encounter. This is all very helpful but it is not nearly enough to call a game just based on these raw figures.

You need to have watched the previous encounters between these two players, seen how their styles match up against each other and seen how well they have actually been playing recently by watching their games in the run up to this match. Important things to pick up on vary from player to player but unforced errors, 1st serve percentages and winners hit are always crucial.

For an example of how these stats vary with each player you just need to look at the winning stats on players that rely heavily on their serve such as Isner, Roddick and Karlovic. There stats can often be misleading as they line up for a game against one of the top 7. We know that these ‘big servers’ can dispatch their opponents with ease until they play someone who is a very strong returner and has a lower rate of unforced errors like Murray or Nadal.

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” 

Past records can be very deceptive if you choose to follow them on their own, for example, take a look at the recent Federer v Murray final in Dubai. Coming into that game, Murray had a solid record against Federer in 3 set matches (8 wins vs 5 losses[1])

So with this lone stat, a price of 2.5 (6/4) for Murray to win another Dubai final against Federer (he beat him in the other Dubai final they met in back in 2008) looks pretty good. So surely that must mean it would be a great bet to take, right? Wrong. Murray was outplayed in straight sets inside two and a half-hours, showing nothing of the form he had used to oust Federer in the past. However, if you had been following the matches leading into this final you would have seen Federer in blistering form, while Murray, despite dispatching Djokovic in the Semi, was far from his best. His three set win against Djokovic was always going to have a draining effect on him and if you looked at the stats, you could see his first serve record was not great. The casual tennis fan rushed to bet on Murray after seeing those odds but if they had watched how Federer had dominated on his route the final, they would have known that those odds were justified (Federer was around 4/7 favourite at the start).

There are countless factors that you can look at such as a player’s abilities on a particular surface; their past records at the same tournament, their form in the last few tournaments etc. You can also factor in things like fatigue and injuries, just look at Djokovic in the ATP World Tour Finals last year, after such a successful calendar year, he was exhausted coming into the tournament. Nadal was suffering with an injury while Federer, who had taken a short break before the tournament was fresh and near his flawless best. Long story short, the bookies faltered and gave odds of 6/4 on Federer for the tournament just before the semi final stage, he then strolled past Ferrer in straights and won the final against Tsonga in a fairly comfortable 3 set victory and in doing so he helped me pay off a large chunk of my student overdraft!

These types of odds have to be spotted and you have to weigh up whether or not the bookies are making a mistake. In the case of the Dubai final, the odds were spot on as Federer took it fairly comfortably, but given the conditions of the other players and Federer’s form in the Masters, there was good money to be made on Federer at the half way stage.

JP

Look out for the second part in the next few weeks, which will deal the more lucrative in-play betting.

You can follow Jonny on Twitter here

TN


[1] http://www.atpworldtour.com/Players/Head-To-Head.aspx?pId=F324&oId=MC10)


Match Report: Isner vs Monaco, Indian Wells Round 3

A second round clash between the prototypical big server (Isner) and baseline scrapper (Monaco). This match was ultimately won in the mind, with Monaco becoming tight on crucial points and Isner taking advantage.

Monaco started the stronger of the two, earning break points in several of Isner’s service games early on in the first set. He failed to take any of them, and was punished by a late break of serve, handing Isner the first set 7-5. The native of North Carolina was becoming increasingly confident on Monaco’s serve, and created several break chances early in the second set, which he failed to take. He followed this up with a sloppy service game of his own at 2:3, going down 15-40. A second serve ace (a slice serve which landed plum on the side line), followed by a 141mph first serve quickly dismissed both break points, demonstrating what a devastating combination Isner has in his giant serve and steely fortitude. Having missed break point opportunities in both sets, Monaco was put to the test on his own service game at 5-6. The Argentine faced and saved three match points, the second one spectacularly so, hitting a drop volley off his shoe laces for a clean winner. Finally, Isner secured the match on his fourth match point, courtesy of a Monaco unforced error from the backhand.

Tennis is often a game of risk-management, and this match was no different. Players at the professional level know their own strengths and weaknesses inside out, and often know their opponent’s too. In this case, John Isner knew his weak mobility and backhand would be exposed in longer rallies, therefore his most viable strategy was to keep points as short as possible, unloading on the forehand whenever possible. His challenge was to take on enough forehands so that Monaco could not settle into his baseline game, but without totally compromising his consistency.

Monaco is naturally a more risk-averse player. At home on clay and slow hard courts, he plays an unremarkable brand of baseline tennis; a functional serve, great lateral mobility on the baseline, solid two handed backhand, and a forehand which he likes to hit inside-out. What he needed to avoid at all costs was anything played short and in the middle of the court which Isner could attack with his forehand. This led to him hitting a very high percentage of first serves (above 70%), the majority kicked to the Isner backhand. This generally elicited a weak, mid-court reply from Isner, which allowed Monaco to initiate his preferred pattern of play, hitting inside out forehands to a (relatively) weak right-handers backhand.

As in so many of his victories, Isner achieved a narrow victory through managing his risk better than his opponent. Starting in the second set, he became increasingly offensive on Monaco’s second serve, blasting several forehand winners off the Argentine’s delivery. He also threw in a few backhands down the line, some beautiful drop shots (among a couple of stinkers), and generally kept his opponent off-balance. Monaco can’t have too many complaints; he didn’t convert any of his break points, but mostly due to Isner’s timely and gargantuan serve. He will perhaps rue becoming tight at crucial moments on his own serve – when Isner was looking to pounce and unleash a forehand, Monaco failed to adapt accordingly. He kept on playing the same mono-pace game, didn’t take any risks and instead allowed Isner to take his own calculated risks.

TN


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