The Challenger Tour is the second of the three professional tennis tiers, sitting between the elite ATP, and junior ITF Tours. Many bookmakers such as Pinnacle Sports offer markets on all Challenger Tour events, and with up to six events being held each week there are many opportunities for betting on the Challenger Tour.
In this article we will take a closer look at the type of players you might find on the tour, and some possible strategies to finding an edge in Challenger Tour betting.
Generally, the Challenger Tour comprises three types of player; ATP journeyman, young prospects and the ultimate journeyman.
The first of our player types is the ATP journeyman, who is now perhaps not quite good enough for the ATP Tour, but is one of the best on the Challenger Tour. Some current examples include Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Paul-Henri Mathieu, or Horacio Zeballos.
What is very apparent is how dominant ATP journeymen are when they play on the Challenger Tour against lower level opponents. By comparing the ATP and Challenger records of ATP Journeyman type players, world ranked between 70 and 150, on the Challenger Tour in the last 12 months we can see how their combined hold/break percentage changes.
While none of the 23 qualifying players had a combined hold/break percentage above 100% at ATP level, they all broke this barrier in Challengers. Whilst it is logical that the combined percentage will improve, it still might be viewed as a surprise that all 23 players managed to do this.
Furthermore, while only Thomaz Bellucci of the sample managed to win more ATP Tour matches than he lost, it’s interesting to note that all the players won more Challenger Tour matches than they lost. This illustrates how much easier these journeymen find the competition in Challengers than on the higher ATP Tour.
It is often speculated that the better players on the Challenger Tour are talented enough to compete at a higher level on the ATP Tour, but they have mental and fitness deficiencies which prevent them from doing so. Those players would likely have a significantly higher combined hold/break percentage in Challengers than they would on the ATP Tour.
It is highly likely that these players will eventually fall into their comfort zone in Challengers, where they will undoubtedly have success. However, sustained success at ATP level is likely to be beyond them
The second genre, and equally as common, is the young prospect.
With young players graduating from the ITF Tour when their ranking allows, they progress to the Challengers, and once their ranking improves towards the top 100 in the world they can then start to consider playing in ATP events. Plenty of players ranked between 100 and 200 fit the bill for this genre, and include Alexander Zverev, Borna Coric and Filip Krajinovic.
The Challenger Tour is a vital part of a young player’s career. As they get towards their mid-late teens, they generally start their journey on the ITF Tour, and usually around the age of 18-20 – if they are a decent prospect – they will start playing Challenger Tour matches.
A reasonable assessment can start to be made on their future career, with hold/break statistics much easier to source for Challenger Tour matches than on the ITF Tour.
For most players, a barrier of around 110% combined hold/break percentage in Challengers is required for a player to have a reasonable chance of future success on the ATP Tour, although previous research from the author has shown that players aged 22 or under had a better Challenger to ATP hold/break percentage statistical adjustment than players aged 23 or higher.
This basically means that younger players are able to step up better than older journeymen, and can improve further with ATP experience.
The final type of player is one who is in-between the two previously mentioned categories – the ultimate Tennis journeyman. These players have never been good enough to succeed on the ATP Tour, but have enough ability to make a living in Challengers. Below this still, there are some who can pay their bills by playing a mixture of Challenger and ITF events, often playing singles and doubles each week. Denys Molchanov, Jaroslav Pospisil and Andrea Arnaboldi are good examples of this bracket.
Opinion is divided about these journeymen. It could be argued that a player who is in their late twenties or older, and has never been in the top 100, should probably find another career. However, others state that in some other sports, a player who is in the best 200 in the world would be a millionaire. On balance, with the difference between the elite players in the world and a 200 ranked player being huge – they’d almost certainly be priced 1.01 in a Grand Slam- the former is probably a fairer assertion.
However, currently, the tennis system allows these players to just about scrape a decent living by playing Challenger events, doing so generally on their favoured surface and in countries in the same continent as they are based. There is little doubt that these players are fully aware of their limitations and are likely to adopt a strong scheduling strategy to keep expenses down and to give them the best chance of maintaining their rank, therefore allowing them direct entry into the majority of Challengers.
These players will generally have a combined hold/break percentage well under the 110% required for younger players to make a successful transition to the ATP Tour, as the below table illustrates. Previous research shows older players have less success adapting to the main tour, and need around a 115% combined percentage to make the step up. However, just because these players are very limited, it far from precludes them from being decent betting propositions on occasion.
Also worth mentioning at this point is that players who have had setbacks in their career – usually, although not always, through long-term injury – need to play in Challengers to recover their ranking. A good example of this currently is Viktor Troicki, who is rebuilding his career following a ban for missing a drugs test. The Serbian has managed to build his world ranking, after playing Challenger events almost every week since, winning in Como and Banja Luka.
Betting on Challenger Tour Events
Just like you would find with ATP events, many tennis focused bookmakers have a large range of markets available including tournament and match betting.
Commonly markets will be available on the winner of each tournament, as well as for each and every match of the tournament. This includes markets on the outright winner of each match, game and set handicaps (generally +/- 1.5), and total games per match.
For most tennis betting Sport Betting Insider recommends using either Pinnacle Sports, or Betfair, as both provide high limits, while high volume trading on Betfair allows punters to “lock in” profits regardless of the match outcome.