Handicap in Tennis Betting – Explained

Are you a fan of tennis and interested in placing bets on matches? Understanding handicaps in tennis betting is a key part of a bettor’s arsenal. 

In this article, we will delve into the world of handicaps and explain how they work in tennis.

Handicap betting in tennis involves adding a virtual advantage or disadvantage to a player’s  final score.

This is done in order to level the playing field between competitors of differing abilities.

By giving one player a handicap and the other a corresponding advantage, bookmakers aim to provide more balanced odds and increase the excitement of the betting experience.

We will explore the different types of handicaps in tennis, including game handicaps and set handicaps.

Additionally, we will discuss strategies for effectively utilizing handicaps to increase your chances of winning.

Whether you are a seasoned bettor or a novice, understanding handicap betting in tennis gives you another angle with which to approach tennis betting. 

So, let’s crack the code and unlock the secrets of handicap betting in the world of tennis.

What is handicap betting in tennis?

Handicap betting in tennis is a popular form of wagering that aims to level the playing field between opponents of differing abilities.

In this type of betting, a virtual advantage or disadvantage is added to a player’s final score.

The purpose of the handicap is to provide more balanced odds and increase the excitement of the betting experience.

There are two main types of handicaps in tennis: game handicaps and set handicaps.

Game handicaps involve adding or subtracting a certain number of games from a player’s final score.

Set handicaps, on the other hand, involve adding or subtracting a set from a player’s final score.

Handicap betting is particularly useful when there is a clear favorite in a match.

By giving the underdog a handicap, bookmakers aim to level the playing field and provide more enticing odds for bettors.

This allows bettors to potentially win even if their chosen player loses the match.


Understanding positive and negative handicaps

Positive and negative handicaps play a crucial role in handicap betting.

A positive handicap is given to the underdog and represents a virtual advantage.

For example, if a player is given a +3.5 game handicap, it means they start the match with a 3.5 game lead.

In contrast, a negative handicap is given to the favorite and represents a virtual disadvantage.

If a player is given a -3.5 game handicap, it means they need to win by at least 4 games for a bet on them to be successful.

How handicap betting works

To understand how handicap betting works, let’s consider an example.

In a match between Flavio Cobolli v Casper Ruud, the standard match odds from the Betfair Exchange are as follows:-

Casper Ruud is strong favourite for the match at odds of 1.25. 

As such a strong favourite, some bettors might be put off backing him. 

This is where handicap betting comes in. 

Game Handicap Market

First up there is the game handicap. 

Here is the market on Betfair:

This market includes a range of different handicaps. 

You can scroll up and down to see a number of different handicaps available for the match. 

The main one highlighted in grey gives Cobolli a +5.5 game handicap start and Ruud a -5.5 handicap. 

What that means is for that if backing Cobolli +5.5, you would need him to lose the match by five games or less. 

If for example he lost the match 7-5, 6-3, your bet would win as the total number of games in the match is as follows:-

  • Ruud: won 13 games (7+6)
  • Cobolli: won 8 games (5+3)

So you then work out the difference between how many games each player won:

  • Difference: Ruud 13 games won minus Cobolli 8 games won = 5 games

Then then add on the handicap:

  • Handicap +5.5 – 5 games difference = +0.5 games

So once the handicap has been added on, Cobolli is the winner in this market. With the handicap he has in effect won 13.5 games to Ruud’s 13.

By the same token in this market, the bet on Ruud -5.5 games would have lost. He would need to win by 6 games or more for that handicap bet to win. 

What is important to note here is it’s the total number of games each player wins in the match that matters in this market.

The number of sets is irrelevant – a player can win the match by two sets to love but if they don’t overcome the game handicap across the whole match then the bet still loses. 


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Set Handicap Market

That is in contrast to the set handicap market, which is based entirely on the number of sets won by each player, with the number of games being irrelevant. 

Typically the set handicap market gives the players a +1.5 or -1.5 handicap. 

That means in effect in matches played over the 3 sets, the player with -1.5 handicap must win the match two sets to love to win the handicap bet. 

And the player with the +1.5 handicap just has to win one set to land the handicap bet. 

Let’s look at the example of the Cobolli v Ruud we considered earlier. 

Betfair doesn’t tend to have a set handicap market, so you would need to look at other options for the set handicap market (although there are alternative ways to create this bet on Betfair – more on that below).

Here are bookmaker odds from

The bookies are pricing Cobolli at around 2.3 with a +1.5 set handicap start, whereas Ruud is a best priced 1.6 to overcome a -1.5 handicap. 

Remember, Cobolli just needs to win one set in the match to land the +1.5 handicap bet.

In the end, the match finished 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 to Ruud, meaning that Cobolli +1.5 in sets would have been a winning bet. 

That’s because the set score was 2-1 to Ruud, so once Cobolli’s +1.5 handicap is added, he has in effect won the match 2.5 sets to 2.

The +5.5 game handicap would also have been a winning bet. 

Also worth noting is that in men’s grand slam matches there are a greater variety of handicap markets as the matches are five sets – so there will be 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5 set handicaps available to bet on.  

Alternative Markets to Set Handicap

Although Betfair does not have normally have a set handicap market, there is a way you can use another one of their markets to achieve a similar bet in case you don’t have access to bookie accounts.  

This is by using the “Set Betting” market, which allows you to bet on the final score of the match in sets. 

So the Set Betting market for the Cobolli v Ruud match looks like this: 

So if you wanted to back the equivalent of Ruud -1.5 sets, you would back Casper Ruud 2-0 here at 1.69. 

And if you wanted to back the equivalent of Cobolli +1.5 sets, you would need to dutch the other three outcomes. 

You can do this on Betfair by choosing those three options, then clicking “stake” in blue on the betslip and it will calculate the dutching stakes automatically for you. 

Here is a £9.98 stake dutched across the three outcomes:

The potential profit is around £13.43, similar to the 2.30 odds offered by the bookies for the +1.5 handicap, once Betfair’s commission is taken into account.

So this gives you a way to effectively bet on the same outcomes as the set handicap market using exchange markets on Betfair. 


Strategies for Betting on the Handicap Markets

Betting on handicap markets in tennis can be both exciting and challenging. Here are some strategies that might help:

1. Analyze Player Form and Head-to-Head Records

  • Recent Performance: Look at the players’ recent match results. Players in good form are more likely to cover handicaps.
  • Head-to-Head Statistics: Some players perform better against certain opponents. Analyze past encounters to gauge potential outcomes.

2. Consider Playing Styles and Surface Preferences

  • Surface: Players often have preferences for certain surfaces (e.g., clay, hard, grass). A player’s performance can vary significantly depending on the surface.
  • Playing Style: Aggressive players might win more games but also lose some, whereas defensive players might keep matches close, affecting game handicaps.

3. Evaluate Fitness and Injury Status

  • Injuries: Check for any recent injuries or withdrawals. An injured player might struggle to cover a handicap.
  • Fatigue: Players involved in long matches or tournaments might be fatigued, affecting their performance.

4. Consider Match Context and Motivation

  • Tournament Stage: Players might be more motivated in certain stages of a tournament (e.g., finals vs. early rounds).
  • Importance of Match: Assess if the match is crucial for ranking points, qualification, or personal milestones.

5. Live Betting Opportunities

  • In-Play Dynamics: Live betting allows you to see how the match unfolds before placing a bet. You can assess the players’ form and mental state.
  • Momentum Shifts: Tennis matches can have significant momentum shifts. Betting on handicaps during such shifts can offer value.

6. Use Statistical Analysis and Data

  • Advanced Metrics: Look at statistics such as break points converted, serve percentages, and return games won.
  • Betting Models: Some bettors use statistical models to predict outcomes and identify value in handicap markets.

7. Follow Expert Analysis and Insights

  • Tipsters: Follow reputable tennis analysts and tipsters who specialize in handicap markets.
  • Forums and Communities: Engage with betting communities to share insights and strategies.

By combining these strategies, you can make more informed decisions when betting on handicap markets in tennis.

Remember, no strategy guarantees success, and it’s important to bet responsibly.

Conclusion – Handicap Betting in Tennis

Handicap betting in tennis introduces a unique dimension by leveling the playing field between competitors of varying abilities.

By adding a virtual advantage or disadvantage to a player’s final score, handicaps create more balanced odds and a more exciting betting experience.

This article has delved into the mechanics of handicap betting, differentiating between game and set handicaps, and providing real-world examples to illustrate their application.

We’ve also shared strategies for effectively utilizing handicaps, emphasizing the importance of analyzing player form, surface preferences, fitness, and match context.

Ultimately, while no strategy guarantees success, a well-rounded understanding of handicap betting can increase your chances of making informed and profitable wagers.

Remember to bet responsibly and enjoy the exciting world of tennis betting with a newfound perspective on handicaps.

Happy betting!

Now read: Tennis Betting Strategies – Ace Your Game With Winning Bets

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