Hello and welcome to the 36th issue of Tennis inbox. I’m starting to get a little tired of watching all the player quarantine videos and am looking forward to some actual tennis. Are you as well? In this week’s issue: ‘enterprising’ men find a way to beat multi-million dollar betting companies, the ITF releases its World Tennis Number (it’s kind of like a UTR), and a slight restructure to the tournament schedule.
Courtsiding: a sneaky loophole to beat the bookies
When you or I think about sports betting, we hardly think that we’ll be walking away with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet that’s exactly what some… should we call them ‘enterprising’ young men have been doing while betting on tennis matches. The practice is called Courtsiding, and it involves being courtside at low-level events such as ITF Futures, and placing bets on individual points before the umpire has had a chance to enter the outcome of a point into the system. As the interviewer in the BBC segment below describes it:
“Courtsiding works by having someone physically at the match to exploit time delays of just a few seconds between a point being won or lost and the umpire inputting the score to an electronic device. The info from the umpire is transmitted to bookies around the world so they can update the odds on their services. But, the courtsider shares that information faster with a partner in crime who can place a bet instantly on the outcome of something that has already happened.”
It sounds shady, but is technically legal—though it breaks the terms & conditions of using a betting account. The video below is a fascinating look at one of the industries that has popped up alongside the low-level tours.
After one of the courtsiders—named “Joe”— takes him through the process and wins him over £3,300, the host of the segment sums it up best:
“That is mad. I was on a phone to a man in Florida, who was trying to find slow umpires, found slow umpires, started off with 800 quid and now we’ve got £3,300. That is insane.”
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International Tennis Federation (ITF) reveals World Tennis Number… kind of like a Universal Tennis Rating
Universal Tennis’ UTR Rating has been making waves in the last year or so. With the launch of the UTR Pro Tennis Tour, and UTR proliferating as the metric that the majority of (young/competitive) tennis players care about, Universal Tennis has established itself as a growing and popular tennis company.
Now, they might have some competition. The ITF recently revealed the World Tennis Number—a rating global rating system that goes from 1 to 40, with 1 being the highest and 40 being the lowest. How does it work? According to their website, “[the] ITF World Tennis Number is for all tennis players, regardless of age, gender or ability.” In terms of how a rating is calculated:
“Our algorithm uses up to 4 years of match result data to calculate your ITF World Tennis Number. When you compete, we analyze your pre-match rating and your opponent’s. Our algorithm then predicts what it thinks the outcome of your match will be. Your Number changes depending on your score and how it compares to our prediction .”
If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard similar messaging about UTR. From my article, “What exactly is UTR?”:
“Your UTR is calculated based on the last 30 eligible match scores from the past 12 months. The key point is that your UTR will change based upon how you perform vs. how you’re expected to perform. For example, the algorithm might dictate that you will lose 6–1, 6–1 to a higher ranked player, but if you lose 6–4, 6–4 then your rating will go up and theirs will go down. If you’re expected to beat a player 6–1, 6–1 but win 6–4, 6–4, then their UTR will go up and yours will go down. It all comes down to the percentage of games a player wins compared to what is expected by the algorithm.”
Both numbers appear to be calculated through similar kinds of algorithms that make a judgment by contrasting the expected outcome of the match to its actual outcome. The difference is that UTR’s algorithm works on the percentage of games a player is expected to win, and the ITF’s seems to be based on how many sets a player is expected to win.
Rolling out in 2021, and with some pretty big names as partners (see below), the ITF World Tennis Number will likely be adopted en-masse. It’ll be interesting to see how it interacts and co-exists with UTR.
Watch this space.
Disclosure: I write for Universal Tennis.
Tournament restructure to cater to hard-quarantined athletes
It seems that governing bodies have realized that quarantining players for 14 days in hotel rooms without access to tennis courts is a tough sell. Perhaps in an effort to placate player complaints, the ATP and WTA announced a slightly restructured tournament calendar:
The ATP has changed its calendar and moved back all three events it planned to host in the first week of February by one day. “The Murray River Open, the Great Ocean Road Open and the ATP Cup will be pushed back by 24 hours,” the ATP said in a statement. “The two ATP 250 events will commence on Monday 1 February, each featuring an increased singles main draw size of 56, while the ATP Cup will start on Tuesday 2 February.” Tennis Australia CEO, Craig Tiley said: “These changes to the lead-in events have been made to give the 72 players a little bit of extra time to help them prepare. We also will prioritise them for things like practice sessions, gym and ice baths.”
A third WTA 500 event in Melbourne has been added for the week prior to the Australian Open. The Grampians Trophy, for players who have been unable to train during the 14-day hard lockdown, has now been added to the Melbourne Summer Series of events during February, and will take place from 3rd February to 7th February. It’ll feature 28 main-draw players. The Gippsland Trophy and the Yarra Valley Classic will go ahead with slightly reduced draws.
Andy Murray out… who’s in?
Andy Murray’s third (fourth?) comeback will have to wait a little longer. The Scot recently tested positive for the coronavirus, throwing his plans to travel to Australia into disarray. Murray had initially pulled out of the Delray Beach Open, an ATP 250, because his priority had been to make it to Australia. After his positive test, Murray and his team worked with Tennis Australia to find a way for him to enter the country, but it was to no avail—news broke shortly that Murray had pulled out of the AO.
Murray’s withdrawal opens up an interesting conversation. Since his wildcard is now available, speculation abounds as to whom Tennis Australia will select to take his place. Perhaps someone young like Dane Sweeny, the 19-year-old out of Queensland who defeated Marius Copil (career-high #56 in 2019) in the first round of AO qualifying draw. Or maybe it’ll be Li Tu, the 24-year-old Australian who has been on an extended hot-streak on the UTR Pro Tennis Tour and recently defeated #124 Marc Polmans.
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