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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 15, 2019

A point-based Bayesian hierarchical model to predict the outcome of tennis matches

  • Martin Ingram EMAIL logo


A well-established assumption in tennis is that point outcomes on each player’s serve in a match are independent and identically distributed (iid). With this assumption, it is enough to specify the serve probabilities for both players to derive a wide variety of event distributions, such as the expected winner and number of sets, and number of games. However, models using this assumption, which we will refer to as “point-based”, have typically performed worse than other models in the literature at predicting the match winner. This paper presents a point-based Bayesian hierarchical model for predicting the outcome of tennis matches. The model predicts the probability of winning a point on serve given surface, tournament and match date. Each player is given a serve and return skill which is assumed to follow a Gaussian random walk over time. In addition, each player’s skill varies by surface, and tournaments are given tournament-specific intercepts. When evaluated on the ATP’s 2014 season, the model outperforms other point-based models, predicting match outcomes with greater accuracy (68.8% vs. 66.3%) and lower log loss (0.592 vs. 0.641). The results are competitive with approaches modelling the match outcome directly, demonstrating the forecasting potential of the point-based modelling approach.


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Published Online: 2019-06-15
Published in Print: 2019-10-25

©2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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