Comebacks from two sets down

Cilic comeback from two sets down

The last grand slam of the year started yesterday.

As you probably already know, the four grand slams have a very important place in a tennis trader’s calendar.

One of the reasons I like trading grand slam matches, is that, beyond the importance they have, the matches are best of five sets (on the mens side).

This in itself raises opportunities.

And some of the trading opportunities that arise, are the comebacks from two sets down.

Over the years, I have made these comebacks somewhat of a strong point in my tennis trading activity.

Of course it goes without saying that I can’t predict all the comebacks that take place, but I do manage to accurately predict most of them, and they do provide the highest ROI.

Yesterday, on day 1 of the US Open, we had two such comebacks; and I’d like to talk more about these two matches, and how they fulfilled all the criterias for becoming “comeback” matches.

Hopefully, the information I’m about to share with you, will help you in the future to identify such matches and trade them successfully.

The first thing you need to know about these “comeback” matches, is that you need to expect them in any match. For some examples,let’s look at two matches that took place earlier this season. The first one took place at the French Open, when Djokovic – then world no.1 – was down two sets against the italian Andreas Seppi, before making a comeback to win in five. The second match took place at Wimbledon, when Roger Federer was down two sets to love against the frenchman Julien Benneteau. In both these matches, there were no clear and strong signals, to indicate that both Djokovic and Federer would have a tough 5 set match, but nevertheless, that was the case.

So, when you are looking to take advantage of these matches, be sure to constantly be on a lookout.

Now, let’s take a look at the two matches that took place yesterday, and how these matches had fulfilled the criterias for being a comeback match, and also look at some aspects of money management when trading these matches.

The first match was Mathieu v Andreev.

In this match, Andreev was the player to go two sets up with a 62 64 scoreline.
The next thing you would have noticed, was that Mathieu was the favorite in this match with a starting price of ~1.40, yet he was the one that was trailing. Most often that is the strongest signal you can have for a comeback, but that’s not always the case.

Obviously, the fact that Andreev was 2 sets up, would have been the first thing that would have caught your eye, had you been on the lookout for a comeback match.

Another strong signal that I look for, is when a player, that has an inferior rating than that of his opponent, is the one who is two sets up.

Now, it’s important to know that when I say rating, I am referring to my rating of the player, and not the rankings of that player, or the ratings that various odds compilers use when they post the pre-match odds.

In the Andreev v Mathieu match, both players had similar ratings, with a slight advantage to Mathieu, mostly due to recent form.

But in order to keep things as simple as possible, even if you don’t keep any ratings of tennis players, you could have identified this match as being a possible comeback match by looking out for the following factors and asking yourself some simple questions.

What is their ATP ranking?
Andreev had a ranking of 100, while Mathieu had a ranking of 128, which placed both players in relatively the same bracket. (just a slight warning here, as sometimes, rankings don’t always reflect reality as it is, but in this case it did)

What is their current form?
Mathieu had won three out of his last five matches, nothing spectacular, but not too bad either, considering the matches were ATP 1000 matches.
Andreev, on the other side, had won only won one match out of his last five matches, or one our of his last six, with one loss being in front of Mathieu.

Can he win in straight sets?
Another question to ask, is whether or not the player that is two sets up, can actually go on to win the match in straight sets. In our example, since Mathieu has already won in straight sets over Andreev, on clay (which is Andreev’s favorite surface) in Gstaad, we knew that Mathieu could not only take a set over Andreev, but he could win a match against him.

If you’ve been watching tennis for a longer amount of time, you know that it is a momentum sport. So, most of the times, all that the player that is behind needs to do, is to create a bit of momentum, and he could potentially ride that momentum until the end of the match. So, if Mathieu was able to create that bit of momentum, either by just holding serve or getting a break of serve, from that moment on, he was in with a real chance to go on and win the match.

The answers to the questions above are available on the ATP site and other sites, so anyone can access them. But sometime you need to look deeper, so here are some extra things I look into.

What is their 5 sets record?
This gives me an overview of what their stamina level is, both in physical and mental terms, for a possible 5 set match. In our example, neither player had a strong record for comebacks, just Mathieu had more experience with five setters.

Have they ever had a comeback from two sets down?
History repeats itself. This statement stands true, and if a player made one comeback in the past, there is a stronger likelihood that he will be doing it again. Similarly, if a player lost from being two sets up, there is a higher chance that he might do the same thing again.

How did he lose the first two sets?
This is important because it can tell you if the player that is behind lost the first two sets due to a poor mental state (which can be improved during the match) or due to the game play where the player that is in front just had all the right answers (usually it’s about the employed tactics).

The second match, that took place yesterday and was a comeback, was the match between Cilic and Matosevic.

Again, this match had some strong signals, that would indicate it could be a comeback match.

First of all, my rating placed Cilic way above Matosevic. The odds indicated this as well, with Cilic’s starting price being ~1.10.

Recent form was in Cilic’s favor as well. So, everything was in Cilic’s favor, yet he was two sets down. Before I decide to back him (or better yet said, lay Matosevic), I have to ask myself how can this be? If Cilic is the far superior player, why is he two sets down?

Then I look into the extra things I mentioned earlier: How did he lose the first two sets?

And the answer is simple: poor mental state. In the first set, at 5-5, Cilic had break points, to go 6-5 up and serve for the first set. But he did not take his opportunities, Matosevic held serve for 6-5 and in the very next game, Cilic got broken. The second set was only a result of the first, where Cilic was mentally still in the first set, which he obviously thought he should have won.

Oftentimes, you just need the player that is behind to raise his level slightly and the player that is in front to lower his level slightly, and you have a whole different match on your hands.

That is exactly what happened in the Cilic match. Matosevic did not have enough experience to finish of the match, and Cilic slowly regrouped and regained his composure in order to create momentum and win the match in five sets.

One more thing I like to look for in a comeback match, especially in one as the Cilic match, is positive body language. If you watched the match, you would have noticed a progressive change in Cilic’s body language, starting with the third set.

Money management

As with every trade we traders make, we want our ROI to be as high as possible, so I thought I’d write a few words on money management when trading these kind of matches.

Let’s look at the same two matches that took place yesterday.

In the Andreev v Mathieu match, Andreev was trading ~1.20. After the third set, he was trading ~1.5. At this point, I would have suggest you either hedge for a profit, or minimize your risk on Andreev (had you placed a lay bet on him after the second set).

And I would have suggested that, due to the fact that there were strong signals that indicated that Andreev would have traded at a lower price during that fourth set, and you could have increased your risk (or re-enter the market) at that point, and by doing so, you would have maximized your ROI.

Now, you might be asking, how did you know that Andreev was going to trade at a lower price in the fourth set ?

Well, there were different signals to indicate that, but the simple explanation is the following. As I mentioned earlier, the rating of the two players was relatively similar. Mathieu had won the third set in a tie-break, created momentum just by holding serve, and did not do anything in that third set to upset or distort Andreev’s mental state. From Andreev’s perspective, he just lost the third set, and not the match.(this is very important and is the same thing I talked about in the inner game post). So there still was plenty of “fight” left in him, and based on what was played in the previous sets, there were signals to indicate that Andreev would have chances to get the lead in the fourth set, especially when considering that he was serving first.

In order for Mathieu to win the match, something had to happen, that would affect Andreev’s mental state. And of course something did happen. When Mathieu was serving 6-5 down in the fourth, Andreev had match points, which he couldn’t convert. So, Andreev was entering the fourth set tie-break, knowing he had already missed match point opportunities. That would have been a good time to either increase our exposure on Andreev or re-enter the market.

The ideal moment to have re-entered the market, would have been in the tie-break, when Andreev had a 4-1 lead and was trading as low as 1.07, but it is almost impossible to know or predict how a tie-break will unfold, especially when you have players that are not dominant with their serve. So, entering the market after Mathieu had saved the match points and brought the fourth into a tie-break, would have been the best option. Having lost both match opportunities and a 4-1 lead in the tie-break, meant that Andreev would pose very little resistance in the fifth, which is exactly what happened, as he lost the final set 6-1.

As for the Cilic match, it was a different situation. Cilic traded ~1.50 in the third, and after placing the lay bet, there was never a need to hedge or minimize your risk, as the match was only headed in one direction. Unlike the Andreev match, after Matosevic lost the third set, he would have felt as if he lost the match, because he knew that Cilic was back, having regained his composure and confidence.

Hopefully, this post has given you a better overview on how to trade tennis matches where one player is making a comeback from two sets down.

If you have any questions, post them in the comments section below.

Image credit: Cilic

1 thought on “Comebacks from two sets down”

  1. Pingback: Conclusions after the 2012 US Open

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