he 106 days separating the Australian Open final and the beginning of the French Open is arguably the toughest stretch for both tennis bettors and fans. Clay court tennis is, for me at least, by far the toughest surface to accurately handicap (and watch). Don’t get me wrong, the Golden Swing is fun and the Sunshine Double is almost always profitable, but in general, paying rent during the clay season is no easy feat.
But now, with everyone’s clay court level on display, combined with 128 high stakes first-round ATP and WTA matches (not including qualifying), it’s time to make some money.
I am by no means an expert when it comes to handicapping clay court tennis, but after doing this for several years, I’ve learned a few strategies to employ and a few landmines to avoid.
1. Never Lay Games with Denis Shapovalov as a Favorite.
This rule applies to all tournaments, not just Roland Garros. Every so often we need to be reminded why betting Shapovalov to cover a game spread pre-match is arguably the worst bet in tennis. Ya, he just beat (an injured) Rafa Nadal, but trusting the overpriced and overrated Canadian with your money is a recipe for tilt. He was also over +1000 to beat Nadal after the first set. I am fine with taking shots on Shapo as a massive live-underdog.
I made the mistake of backing him -2.5 games against Andy Murray in Madrid. The conditions seemed ripe for a good Shapovalov performance, and Murray was playing his first clay tournament since the 2020 French Open. Within seconds, all my money was gone. Shapovalov probably missed more balls than he made, dropping a 1-6 first set to Murray and immediately eliminating any chance of winning the bet. Bet Shapovalov’s moneyline as an underdog, or a big, fat live underdog. But never bet him to cover a lofty game spread. There’s nothing worse than trusting the Canadian with your money and watching him miss 75% of his returns, and pepper the back fence with rabid shank forehands. I haven't recovered mentally from this loss.
2. Impossible is Nothing in a Grand Slam Opening Round
Everyone gets nervous for the first round of a major. The prizes and prestige are far beyond any other tournament, and there will always be some shocking first-round results.
Last year, 37-year-old Andreas Seppi convincingly beat FAA. 35-year-old Pablo Andujar stunned Dominic Thiem from TWO SETS DOWN. A $20 bet on Andujar after the second set would have paid thousands. Jan-Lennard Struff beat Andrey Rublev in the first-round and Carlos Alcaraz in the third round!!!! The German has won nine total matches since!
Crazy shit always happens in the first round. Be prepared and don’t get discouraged if you’re on the losing end of an all-time fluke.
3. Don’t Bet the Board
Betting the board defeats the purpose of betting tennis. The beauty of tennis betting lies in its ridiculous volume. There are 128 first-round matches. You only need to pick a handful, and sometimes you don’t need to pick any. If you aren’t selective, and bet pre-match high volume each day, you will most likely encounter a seriously painful stretch, which your bankroll may or may not survive. Be selective. A 2-0 day is better than a 6-5 day.
If you feel like placing a lot of bets, just lower the stakes and try and watch as many players as possible. I could be wrong, but I believe the real value lies in the second and third rounds of most tournaments. Unless there is a total misprice, be very careful during the first few days.
4. Monitor every Nadal, Djokovic, Alcaraz, and Swiatek Match
It's pretty impossible to bet these players pre-match, but as soon as any of them go down a break, consider their live set-moneylines. If they go down a set, consider their live match-moneylines and live game-spreads. There is only value betting these players if they are losing. Nadal's foot injury certainly throws a wrench in things, so be careful with him. But more often than not, these players find a way to win. It's also a great way to get an immediate sweat and watch the very best athletes in the world perform under immense pressure. Also, the vast majority of their competitors won't be able to clear the mental hurdle of defeating such an intimidating and talented presence. Half the time these players win the match before the first point is played.
5. Beware the Energy Conservation Sets
Grand Slam tennis is the best tennis for many reasons, but none more than the players' effort level. With so much pride and prize money at stake, you typically can expect maximum effort from most players.
My favorite aspect of betting majors is without a doubt the energy conservation sets. These guys are used to playing 2/3 sets, and with few exceptions (CarLOLs Alcaraz), they can’t redline an entire match. Guys like Pablo Andujar, Richard Gasquet, Peter Gojowczyk and many others are no strangers to dropping a 1-6 set, only to bounce back and close out the match.
Yes, you should try and identify and capitalize on these sets, but most importantly you should not be fooled by them. Many dollars were lost on Alex Molcan at the Australian Open after he beat Andujar 6-0 in the third set. It’s natural to think that the 36-year-old was physically spent, but he bounced back to win the fourth set 6-1. There are many others, but this is one of the best examples of an energy conservation set. Try and recognize them but don’t be fooled by them. If a player wins two hard fought sets, gets down an early break in the third and loses that set 6-1, it's most likely a tank-set and you should expect a fourth-set bounceback.
6. Hedge Your Bets Wisely
This is a hotly debated topic, and people can win in many different ways. But I am a big believer in targeting live underdogs, then hedging the other side if they get back on serve or even up the score. If you are sitting there with a +500 ticket, and the opponent is even money, just take the money and run.
If you are sitting on a pre-match minus game spread, it is difficult to hedge and ensure a profit without risking a loss on both sides, but if you have an underdog ML ticket, and the opponent is sitting there in the +500 range, just hedge. It is more difficult to serve out a match on clay than any other surface, and with no time limit and high French Open stakes, we will see some crumbles.
I understand the basic math that hedging eats into your profit, but nothing eats more profit than watching a player lose from a winning position, then tilt-betting your bankroll away. 2022 has seen dozens of seemingly impossible comebacks.
Don’t hedge if there is a clear mismatch in the midst of a runaway victory, but if you think there is the slightest chance your bet might choke it away, just play it safe, and guarantee solid profit.
7. Don’t Use Over Game Totals as a “He/She Might Win” Substitute
You’ll see this all the time with various handicappers, myself included. We’ll play a certain over game total because “we think he/she will keep it close,” instead of just playing the +game spread or underdog money line. This rarely ends well. Go with your gut and don't try and get cute. I've lost more than I care to mention by playing an over game total thinking that an underdog will keep it close, only for the underdog to steamroll the opponent. Over/unders in general are coin-flippish, unless it's a Bianca Andreescu match.
8. Target Large +Game Spreads with Competent Players
Tennis on a quick surface is relatively straightforward. Tennis on a clay court is not. If a good player is an underdog, and getting a massive + game spread (+5.5 or so), it’s typically a good bet. There are so many momentum swings in clay court tennis, and assuming that a favorite will clear a giant game spread leaves practically no margin for error. On the flipside, there is so much cushion with a +4.5 or +5.5 game spread, and if it starts well, you can always get greedy and try and middle it (not recommended, but fun).
This applies to favorites who are typically overpriced, like Holger Rune, Jannik Sinner, Denis Shapovalov, or Andrey Rublev. There’s plenty of examples, but these come to mind, as they are difficult to bet pre-match, and laying multiple games with them as a favorite is not fun. A guy like Hugo Dellien, who literally only plays on clay, was +4.5 against Holger Rune. Kwon SoonWoo was +4.5 to Sebastian Baez. Both Kwon and Dellien are pretty dang good at tennis, and predicting them to get steamrolled is very bold. Unless there is a clear mismatch, taking large +game spreads is far safer than the alternative.
9. A 3-0 Lead Means Nothing
One of my earliest mistakes betting clay-court tennis was to jump on a player who raced out to a 3-0 lead. I thought surely the player was going to win 6-0, 6-0. A 3-0 lead might seem like a lot, but it's not. I have lost more money than I care to mention hopping on a live -4.5 or -5.5 game spread on a player up 3-0. A 3-0 lead means practically nothing. In fact, a good clay court match doesn't even begin until somebody gets up a break. If a player you liked heading into a match gets up 3-0, you missed it. Just sit there, be patient, and try and get ahead of the next one. If you place a live game spread on a player up 3-0 and they get broken right back, you're almost surely fucked.
10. When in Doubt, Pick the Player Who was Raised on Dirt
Sometimes betting tennis is really simple. If a player spent their childhood learning how to play tennis on red clay, 90% of the time they are going to be better on clay than someone raised on a hardcourt. There is no substitute for a lifetime of red-clay sliding and point construction. Green clay does not count. Clay court tennis is practically a different sport compared to a quicker surface. Guys like Sebastian Baez, Lorenzo Musetti, Fabio Fognini, Jaume Munar, and many others have a monumental advantage when facing an opponent who excels on another surface.
Last but not least, subscribe to my Patreon for daily breakdowns, pre-match plays, and most importantly, access to our live-betting Telegram chat where I share my live plays and hedges. Live-betting is the best way to bet tennis, and that is a hill I will fight to the death on.