Oct 10, 2017

What makes Nadal the favourite among fans and in tennis betting?

Source: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images AsiaPac)

In every sport, those involved purely as fans and those who spend hours studying form to bet professionally spend plenty of time discussing the topic of “greatest ever.” For the former group, it is often a mixture of head and heart that informs the argument, while those falling into the latter category are likely to have figures and statistics to support their view.

Yet while those who are into motor racing discuss Schumacher and Fangio, or cricket followers try to decide between Tendulkar and Bradman, for the tennis connoisseur, this is a golden era. Not only are the two greatest players contemporaries of one another, they are both playing right now. While F1 fans can only theorise about whether Fangio would have been faster than Schumacher, we have the honour of seeing Federer and Nadal duke it out time and again. In fact, they have played each other professionally almost 40 times. No wonder Fedal is one of the most hotly disputed sporting rivalries ever.

Who’s the greatest?

Some point to Federer’s greater number of grand slam wins as evidence that he is the greatest until such time as Nadal can prove otherwise. There are two flaws with this argument. The first is that at 36, does Federer really have any more grand slams in him? Nadal, on the other hand, is five years Federer’s junior, and needs just three more wins to draw level.

The other factor to consider is that Nadal has won 23 of their 37 encounters, which makes it difficult for anyone to argue that Federer is the greater of the two.

Where to place your bet

Whether Federer’s star finally on the wane, or he can still prove himself against Nadal is the burning question, and one that can be explored by examining the bookmakers’ view on the numerous online sports betting sites. In recent years, tennis betting has become increasingly popular, thanks mostly to the rise of smartphone apps and online services. As well as providing an opportunity to win some money, a look at the odds also gives a great form guide for tennis fans.

With the Shanghai Masters getting underway, there is little surprise that the bookmakers see it as a two horse race between the two giants, and they have it too close to call. Both are around the 2/1 mark, with some offering Federer as favourite and others Nadal.

Many happy returns

If the betting odds cannot choose between them, is there other data we can call upon to differentiate between the game’s two top players? One statistic that stands out is the return of serve. There can be few tougher challenges in sport – statistically, you will miss more first serves than you return.

Most professionals in the men’s game have a return rate of around 33 percent – Federer’s is slightly below average at 32.5 percent. Nadal, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest with a return rate of 35.2 percent.

In the average match, a player will face around 150 first serves. According to those statistics, Nadal will successfully return four more than Federer per game. And it is small edges like this that can ultimately contribute to him being recognised as the best of all time.

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