In many of the world’s most popular sports, such as football, cricket and rugby, playing at home can have significant advantages. The atmosphere and support of the crowd, is one of the main benefits of playing at home. However, is there such thing as home advantage in tennis?
The match between Heather Watson and Serena Williams at Wimbledon 2015, would suggest that there is an advantage to be gained when playing on home soil. Watson, a British tennis player, who was ranked 59 in the world at the time, had never made it to the third round of Wimbledon in her career and never defeated the world number one, Serena Williams. With the Centre Court crowd buzzing and firmly behind Watson, she produced the best tennis of her career and came within a whisker of defeating Williams.
The question is, was Watson’s increase in performance level, due to her playing in her home country?
There are a huge number of factors to consider other than home advantage – travel, food and acclimatisation can play their part, especially for inexperienced players. However it’s the same for the vast majority of the players because only a very small percentage are playing at home. The courts in tennis are or equal size, unlike football pitches which can be very different. Court size should not matter. However, the surface, be it grass, clay or hard court, is a huge factor.
Take Andy Murray as an example. As a British player, Murray receives tremendous support when playing Wimbledon, yet has won it once, the same amount of times as the US Open. Furthermore, Murray has reached the Australian Open final four times but in comparison but only twice at Wimbledon. This is only one, isolated example and further, statistical studies would be required but it shows that perhaps home advantage does not exist in professional tennis.
In many cases, the advantage comes in the playing surface, as opposed to the location of the tournament. Rafael Nadal has won the French Open nine times and has a distinct liking for the tournament. However, this is not because the tournament is in France, he is Spanish after all, it’s because the clay surface is his speciality. The surface, not the location of the event is the deciding factor here.
Nadal was brought up playing on clay, as Murray was on Grass. Serena Williams learned to play on hard courts. With this in mind, we must consider the dominant playing surface in their country of birth (or growing up) as a major factor, along with the actual nationality.
Further studies would be required, in order to come to a definite conclusion of whether home advantage plays a part in tennis. On the face of it, home advantage may be able to raise the performance level, slightly, of a player when up against a much superior opponent. However, overall, it does not present the same advantages that it does in other sports and perhaps the type of surface, is more significant than playing at home.