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Does Tournament Location Influence ATP Challenger Results?

Cloudbet has a vast range of tennis markets from Challenger to ITF. And most betting analysis is done on the major players on the tennis tour, so I want to look at some of the smaller names who may not make many forays into the biggest tournaments, and certainly not on the biggest stages. So it's a pertinent question: Does location influence ATP Challenger results? 

Male players ranked outside the top 100 in the world tend to ply their trade on the Challenger Tour, as their ranking is not high enough for direct entry for main draws at ATP Tour level.  Playing qualifiers to main tour events - particularly the higher value ones - is a risky proposition, as a defeat during qualifying in the preceding weekend of a tournament leaves them unable to play in the subsequent week, and also almost certainly out of pocket given the considerable travel and living expenses that players incur. A 2014 study by the International Tennis Federation showed that to break even, a male player had to be ranked at 336 in the world. Given there are over 9000 tennis players globally, it stands to reason that many of them wouldn't come close to earning a living from their sport.

The importance of expenses

These expenses are a very relevant discussion when it comes to lower-level player scheduling. While a top player has no issues whatsoever in terms of picking and choosing the events they would like to play - and often even get an appearance fee as well - lower tier players need to be smart to try and incur as few costs as possible.

Often, this means largely sticking to home continent events, which have the obvious benefit of not needing long-haul travel, and also that costs and payments frequently are in the same currency.  Furthermore, European and American players often play league tennis at weekends if they are knocked out of events, which offers them further financial rewards, so it is evident that sticking to the continent that they are based in makes a lot of sense for the majority of tennis players.

With this in mind, it’s worth examining how these lower-tier players fared when it came to performances across various continents. Prior to any analysis, it could be considered logical that these players might perform better when away from their home continent, given the obvious pressure that they will be under to perform, to return back home with decent prize money and a boost to their rankings.

Does pressure play a role?

However, in professional sport, there have been numerous examples of players struggling under pressure, and in addition, many other examples of players performing badly away from their home comforts.  Professional sports players are human beings as much as the rest of us, and are just as likely to be prone to bouts of homesickness as anyone.

To evaluate this, player performances across various continents, the players ranked 101-150 in the current ATP rankings (at 27/7/18) were assessed, with the vast majority of these being Challenger Tour regulars.  A few players, such as Ivo Karlovic, Nicolas Mahut, Paolo Lorenzi and Mikhail Youzhny, came into this ranking bracket, and fall into the category of declining veteran ATP players, and this trio are unlikely to be under any financial pressure.  Also likely to be in solid financial health but ranked outside the top 100 is Marcel Granollers, Martin Klizan and Ernests Gulbis, who have all fallen out of the top 100 for various reasons but have had strong ATP careers.

Although these seven players have played the majority of their matches on the main tour, as opposed to Challengers, they were still assessed, and the other 43 in the list certainly have played the vast majority of their recent matches on the Challenger Tour, as opposed to the main tour.

Do European players have an advantage on the Challenger tour?

Let's evaluate Europe first.  31 of the 50 players ranked between 101 and 150 were European, and blind-backing them in each player’s last 50 matches in Europe resulted in a 0.85% return on investment, based level stakes at market closing prices.  This return on investment is a huge positive.

Very rarely does a sample of 1,550 bets from a blind-backed scenario return a positive return on investment at closing prices.

These European players - usually clay courters who made the effort to travel there - also performed reasonably well in South America, running at 0.42% ROI from 575 matches.  However, they were considerably worse in North America (-4.01% ROI from 1039 matches) and Asia/Australasia (-4.10% ROI from 1090 matches).

Certainly, it would appear that European players performed best in their home continent and European grinders also enjoyed the slow clay in South America.  However, on the hard courts of North America and Asia/Australasia, European players struggled, and potential backers of European players on hard courts in these latter continents may want to think twice before doing so.  

Interestingly, Ruben Bemelmans, Jurgen Zopp, Ernests Gulbis, Elias Ymer, Laslo Djere and Sergiy Stakhovsky were only able to generate a positive ROI in their home continent, when looking at their last 50 matches across the various continents.

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Now let's get back to the data.

Where do North American players perform best?

The five North American players generally thrived in their home continent.  When looking at their last 50 matches, they played 229 matches in total (Felix Auger-Aliassime has only played 29 matches in his home continent) and they won an impressive 59.83% of these, returning 5.28% return on investment.

However, North American players were dire in the other continents, returning -16.78% ROI in 198 matches across Europe, -10.33% in Asia/Australasia and -5.83% in South America.  This is interesting and is also in line with the author’s previous research which shows that American players generally struggle outside of their home continent.

Several reasons potentially exist here - one, they are simply just homesick, and two, the quality of some American tournaments could be rather questionable, which then exposes American players when they play overseas.  Certainly, these tournaments are often diluted by a number of wild-cards for college players who are not even close to being good enough to compete at that level, and some may argue that American players get a lot of ‘cheap wins’ which flatter their overall record.

So far, we’ve seen that both European and North American players have performed above market expectations in their home continents, and the next continent to be assessed, South America, also managed this feat.

The best time to back South American players

The nine South American players ranked 100-150 won 59.33% of their matches in their home continent - very similar to the North American player figure in North America - and also benefited from a solid blind-backed ROI, of 3.65%.  

In fact, South American players performed surprisingly well across North America, in particular, and not disastrously in Europe (-0.55% ROI) and only in Asia/Australasia were their numbers very poor, with only Marco Trungelliti and Rogerio Dutra Da Silva recording positive numbers there.  

This study has highlighted the difference in quality of Challenger tournaments

With this in mind, perhaps an argument can be made for the quality of South American tournaments, particularly at Challenger level, being pretty high, thus equipping South American players with the tools to perform well at events in other continents.

Finally, there were just four Asian/Australasian players ranked between 101 and 150, and while the sample size was obviously smaller for these, it’s worth noting that they again, outperformed market expectations in their home continent, recording 3.80% ROI at closing prices.  

Despite this, overall, as with North American players, Asian/Australasian players were unable to replicate such domestic success worldwide, recording negative combined ROI figures across the other three continents.  

Hopefully this article has given readers food for thought for future betting opportunities, and summarising, it is utterly evident that players are under-estimated by the market in their home continent, with all four continents’ combined numbers being positive for matches in the home continent.  In addition, bettors should be aware that tournaments in North America and Asia may be of weaker quality, which then has the effect of flattering home player’s numbers, but leaving them poorly equipped when travelling. As ever, if you'd like access to the data just tweet Cloudbet and we'll share it with you.

About the Author
Dan Weston

Dan Weston

Betting Expert and Trader at tennisratings.co.uk

Posted on 2018-08-02

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