Tennis stars fail to fire at home

The well-known phenomenon of home-ground (or court) advantage seems to be alive and well for Australian tennis, as shown by Lleyton Hewitt’s win in Brisbane on Sunday and Bernard Tomic in Sydney last year.

However La Trobe University sports economist Dr Liam Lenten believes it’s worth putting the home town advantage concept to the test, motivated by ‘several summers of disappointment watching highly-rated Aussies bombing out of the Open earlier than expected’.

‘After all,’ he said, ‘no Australian, male or female has won the singles title in Melbourne in over 35 years.’

Research by Dr Lenten from La Trobe’s School of Economics and Dr James Reade at University of Reading in the UK used complex econometric modelling and regression techniques to estimate the magnitude of home-court advantage in men’s tennis for several major tennis-playing nations.

Their results indicate that overall, home-court advantage is significant. Taking two otherwise equally-able players on neutral ground, playing on a home court increases that player’s probability of victory from 50% to an estimated 56.3%.

This estimate accounts for a large number of various match-specific factors, most obviously ability differences, but also others such as prize money and ranking point incentives, as well as age, height, weight, rest days, even handedness.

Dr Lenten said the research sampled 29,531 Grand Slam and ATP matches from 2003-2013, excluding Davis Cup. It compared winning probabilities of a player beating an opponent when the match takes place in that player’s country, assuming the opponent was not also of that nationality.

However, when isolating the 1,946 matches over the same period from the Australian leg of the ATP Tour, the home advantage by Australian male tennis players was substantially reduced, with the probability of victory rising to merely 53.7% – not statistically significantly different to 50% when accounting for estimate error.

The authors say this is not purely an Australian phenomenon, as this was found to also be the case for UK and German players.  However, for all the other major tennis-playing nations, such as the US, France, Spain and Italy, home-court advantage was strong.

Dr Lenten adds the results do not explain why Aussie players do not seem to perform more strongly on home soil.

‘Maybe home town matches add too much pressure and make them tighten more than firing them up, but this could be investigated with co-operation from Tennis Australia.’

He says he is not expecting much joy watching this year’s Open, starting Monday, but adds that Tomic, who on early signs seems to thrive on playing here, may play a big role helping to reverse this finding with a revised match sample in the future.

Media contact

Dr Liam Lenten, School of Economics: T + 61 3 9479 3607 | E

Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications: M 041 226 1919

Image credit: Bill Brooks