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Betting on tennis handicaps explained

The most popular tennis betting markets are total games market, games handicap market and the match winner market. We’ve already discussed totals markets (Over/Under market). Now we want to look at the games handicap market, which is also a very important tool to play against the bookies.

What is a handicap in tennis?

nadal wawrA handicap in tennis is a lead given by the bookies to this or that player to be added to the total number of games consequently won by him. By doing this the bookies level out the match. So when betting on handicaps it’s very important to count the number of games not to predict on the actual winner of the match. For example, the 2014 Australian Open final saw Rafael Nadal take on Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss won it in four sets with the final score 6:3, 6:2, 3:6, 6:3. Wawrinka took 6 games in the first set, 6 games in the second, 3 games in the third set and 6 games in the final one. Summing it up, we get 21 games in total. Rafa Nadal managed to win 3 games in the opening set, then 2 in the second one, 6 in the third set and 3 in the final one. All in all it made up 14 winners. The difference in the games was 7 (21 – 14 = 7) in the victor’s favour. Another example is the 2014 USA Open final where Kei Nishikori faced Marin Cilic. The match finished with 6:3, 6:3, 6:3 on the scoreboard. The handicap made up 9. This is the difference between 18 games won by the Croat and 9 won by Nishikori.

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Now do some follow-up exercises.

  1. Calculate the handicap in the 2012 Australian Open match between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic which ended up with the scoreline 5:7, 6:4, 6:2, 6:7, 7:5 in the Serb’s favor.
  2. John Isner v Novak Djokovic at 2012 Indian Wels Masters. The American won that encounter 7:6, 3:6, 7:6. What was the handicap?

djokovicSo the number of games is the only thing that matters in handicap betting. The real winner of the encounter is not that important. Sometimes you may bet on the minus handicap and win even if your selection has failed the match. Sometimes the -1,5 or -2,5 handicap turned out to be profitable despite the loss of the player you backed. It may happen with the scoreline 6:0, 6:7, 4:6 and at the minus handicap -2,5. Such cases are quite rare. But they also happen. So in handicap betting you just count the games correctly.  

Now let’s talk about two kinds of handicaps: it may either be plus or minus.

How does plus handicap work?

cilicPlus handicap shows the number of games which should be added to the final number of games won by a player. Thus, taking a recent example with Rafael Nadal we could have taken a handicap bigger than 7 (for example, +9) and the outcome would have been as follows: Stan Wawrinka won 21 games, Rafael Nadal won 14+9 (real games + handicap) = 23 games. It means that our handicap bet wins. Or take the match between Djokovic and Isner which was also mentioned above. Have you calculated the difference? It’s 1. So if we had taken the plus handicap at John Isner (let it be +2), the total number of games won by the American would have made up 19 against Serb’s 18. And we have pushed up some money!

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How does minus handicap work?

Minus handicap is the number which should be subtracted from the final outcome for our selection to win it.  Get back to Nadal - Wawrinka example. If we had bet at the minus handicap on Wawrinka -3, our outcome would have been the following: Wawrinka winning 21 – 3 = 18 games and Nadal 14, i.e. Wawrinka would come off victorious even without these three sets. Our minus handicap wins.  In Isner – Djokovic match the -2 handicap on Djokovic would have lost, as 18-2=16 games won by the Serb against 17 games taken by the American. Isner would have won and our bet lost.

How do the bookies set handicaps?

bookiesThe whole numbers (4 games, for example) are rarely used by the bookies to set the handicaps. More often you’ll come across fractional odds like +3,5 и -3,5. Why do they do this? As we’ve already written, the bookies try to divide all the punters into two categories. One part should bet at plus handicap, the other at minus handicap. For these reasons, if the handicaps will be even numbers, it’s very likely that the match will end up with the same difference.  Let’s imagine that some match has ended up 7:6, 6:4. In this case handicap 3 will guarantee all the punters will get their stakes back. And bookies will get nothing.  To avoid this outcome, they add 0,5 and ensure themselves some profit from either those who bet at the positive handicap or negative.

Handicap betting strategies

And finally let’s take a deeper look at the handicaps selection. When choosing handicap bets from the range offered by the bookies you should answer a question: how many breaks can perform the favorite? If there are two equal players and you suppose that the favorite will be able of making only one break, don’t hesitate to select 4.5 handicap on the underdog set by the bookies. Even at worst with one break the final score will be 6:3, 7:6 and your plus handicap will win.   

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Our dotennis team has also revealed the following trend: big plus handicaps (4.5) are more reliable than huge minus handicaps. Only a player with spotless tennis can cover the -4,5 handicap.

From the other hand, small plus handicaps (1,5 or 2) are less valuable than the outsider’s victory.  The player has to win at least one set for the +1,5 handicap bet to win. Think it over. The scoreline 7:6, 7:6 contains the handicap 2. So if you bet at +2 handicap, you’ll get your stake back. In this case it would be more profitable to bet on the underdog’s win as the odds set be the bookies will be def higher, while the winning chances are equal. Of course, there are exceptions to any rule and there are some events when it’s more desirable to bet at a small plus handicap. But it’s another story.

We hope that we managed to explain the handicap betting option to you. If any questions arise – feel free to ask in comments!

And now it’s time for amazingly high speed!  

Relevant articles:
Tennis betting. All you should know about betting on clay court tennis matches
Statistics in tennis. How it helps when it comes to betting tips
Short betting odds
Betting on tennis. Specifics of the grass court play
Algorithm of tennis matches analysis



I've never put tennis balls on waekrls but I've put them on chairs at school The janitor used a box cutter to cut a slit in each tennis ball and then squeezed it to open it and slid it onto the legs.


Please when you bet 1H1.5 ,and they score 0-2.please what does it mean?


Very detailed explanation on handicap betting. I have been struggling to understand what handicap is all about. However, my question is, in the example of Rafa Nadal that you used, what if Rafa was the weaker player and a handicap of say +3 was placed on him. And during the real play he still goes ahead to win the main game, What happens to your bet. Because you are betting on the weaker team in the even that if he/she losses, based on your selected spread/margin, he would win. In the event the weaker team wins the main game, what happens to your bet? I await your response please. Thank you.

Achol Nai

It is very important and interested to have ur tips and thanks


Plz tell me about match handicap in tennis match with example

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