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Understanding totals bets in tennis

The most common bet types in tennis betting are totals market (O/U market), handicap market, match winner market. The purpose of this article is to make it clear when it is more profitable to wager on each of the markets. We’ll start with an O/U market.

What is a total bet?

isner mahutThe term “total” here refers to the combined number of games played in the upcoming event. Let’s take a famous match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at the 2010 Wimbledon Championship. This is a record for the longest tennis match ever with the final score of 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68 for a total of 183 games. Or another variant is the shortest ATP match played between Jarkko Nieminen v Bernard Tomic in Miami. Finland’s Nieminen crashed the Australian 6-0 6-1 in 28 minutes and 20 seconds. And the total number of games made up 13 while the smallest total possible in tennis is 12 with a score of 6:0, 6:0 which is not unusual in tennis. For example, in 2009 in Basel Novak Djokovic defeated Hernych with final 6:0, 6:0 on the scoreboard.

To check yourself try to calculate the totals in the following matches on your own: the outcome of the match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at 2008 Wimbledon was 4:6, 4:6, 7:6, 7:6, 7:9. Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in Monte-Carlo with 6:2, 7:6.

How the bookmakers access the total games

Now when we know how the total games are calculated let’s analyze the bookmaker’s behavior. The bookies offer the bettors to predict the total number of games to be played. To be more precise, the bookies want you to bet on whether the total number of games will be over (O) or under (U) their assessment. Herewith, shall it be a three-set match format the average number of games is statistically equal to 22 while for the five-set format it’s 36. But these figures only show the average aggregators. Let’s deal with details.

tennis netActually, as we’ve stated earlier in our article on the bookmakers’ job, their main aim is to divide all the punters into two categories: those who’ll choose total over and those who’ll bet on total under. Let’s imagine a match between two rising stars Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic which is to take place on hard. Supposing easy and confident win by the Japanese on hard surface, the total set by the bookies will be about 24. As it’s very difficult to win the Canadian’s serve. Difficult, but not impossible. And in most cases, total 24 means that there would be only 1 break in the match and the final score will look like 7:6, 6:4. Or it will be a close match with a final decider. But the cunning bookies have thought of one more trick. In case there are 24 games played all the punters will get their wagers back. That’s why the bookies offer a fractional number 24,5 to make sure that no money will return to the bettors.

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And a couple of examples to check your understanding.

  1. Wimbledon 2008. Rafael Nadal plays Roger Federer. Bookmakers offer 40,5 total. Shall we play over bet or under bet to get profit?
  2. Monte-Carlo 2013. Novak Djokovic plays Rafael Nadal. The bookies offer us 24,5 total. What should we do?

You’ll find the correct answers at the bottom of the article.

Do you follow us? If so, let’s learn how to make profit of the O/U bets.

What is total Over?

tennis shotIf you expect tough struggle in the event, you’d better bet on total Over.  Again, in the mentioned above historic match between John Isner and Mahut the bettors were rightly expecting close fight between the both. The winning odds of the players were equal. But the bookies do clearly realize that the likelihood of breaks is very low in this match between two big servers. Consequently they conclude that the final number of games has to be huge. Moreover, the surface of the five-format event is grass which is the fastest possible. And they offer a 42,5 total. It means they the bookies expect at least 4 sets, as if one of the players outplay in three sets the maximum number of games can be 39. It means you have to decide whether Mahut is capable of breaking Isner, or not. Or maybe he can outplay the American in a tiebreak?

Another important moment in total markets is the assessment of the sets to be played. In most cases total Over wins if it’s a best-of-three-sets match where all three sets have been played or a best-of-five-sets match with at least 4 sets played.

What is total Under?

rafaYou should select this bet if you are confident that one contender is much stronger than an underdog. Thus if you see that Djokovic is in a perfect physical form and has all the prerequisites to outplay Nadal in Monte-Carlo, bet on total under 24,5. Usually total Under implies the smallest number of sets: 2 sets in a best-of-three-sets match and 3 or 4 sets in a best-of-five-sets match. But be careful! There’s one hazardous trick. Sometimes you rightly suppose that Djokovic is times stronger than Nadal in the given moment. But wow! Nadal has pulled himself together and has lost a set 7:6 to lose the rest of them 6:0, 6:0. But you have no rescue anymore. Total Under has lost. We’ve faced a similar situation at Wimbledon 2014. We predicted that Nadal should crash Mihail Kukushkin and so we bet on total Under 36. But Mihail took the first set 7:6. He lost the following sets 1:6, 1:6, 1:6. But total Under gambled away.

Total Over/Under tips

nadalNow when we hope you've got a slight idea of the totals market, we want to make some remarks.

  • On fast surfaces it’s more difficult to break an opponent. Totals tend to be higher.
  •  If both of the players are big servers with bad play on return, totals will be higher than in a fight between those who are good on return. For example, the bookies will offer 24,5 total to Karlovic-Raonic and 21,5 to Monaco-Berloq.
  • And as we’ve mentioned above, total bet concerns the number of games, not the whole match line. It means that total bets are less valuable than handicaps. Very often it’s just impossible to determine the number of the games in the upcoming event turning it into a guessing game which has nothing to do with tennis analysis. For these reasons, our team tries to keep away from total bets.

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But to be honest, we can’t deny that sometimes total lines possess big value. Let’s take Djokovic-Berdych match at London Finals 2014.  Initially the line was set up as -5,5 at Djokovic or total under 19,5.... In that case we could predict that Djokovic would likely come off victorious, and most probably it will be rather confident but not a crashing defeat of the Czech. Also Tomas might offer some struggle at the beginning of the match and then fail it to the end. Shall the score be 6:3, 6:4 the set total suits us perfectly! And if Djokovic will be the first to serve, we’ll be in profit, even if the Serb breaks the Czech twice. The-5,5 handicap implies, at least, three breaks instead of two. As the score 6:3, 6:4 in Serb’s favour isn’t okay for us.

From the other hand, in case Novak takes the first set 6:2 or 6:1, the-5,5 handicap will be more valuable than the total bet, as he has enough time in the second set to cover the handicap. Total under gives no such an opportunity.

Well, all in all, the choice between the handicap line and total line greatly depends upon your expectations. If you expect our crashing set, bet on handicap. And if one of the players look more favorable, but his opponent is a good server, total maybe a better option to place a wager.

And a bit of fun. How on earth shall we calculate the total when the players play the longest rally?

And yes! The keys to our tasks! In first case it should be total Over, in second – total Under. 

Relevant articles:
Indoor hard court tennis features. Tennis betting.
Betting on tennis. Playing on outdoor hard courts
Value betting. Social media in tennis betting: how it can be of help.
Betting on tennis. Specifics of the grass court play
Tennis betting. All you should know about betting on clay court tennis matches



Nice article. Thank you


How can this cretin write off Murray I don't trust him . Murray is an aweosme hard court player and has proved this by NOW making two seperate grand slam finals. This guys logic is embarrasing and when talking about Murray and claiming that Murray wax essentially a poor grand slam player he seems to have overlooked the US open final of '08. This is infurating. Federer should win today but I think it will be in 5 sets. 6-2 3-6 6-7 6-4 8-6


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