Betting on Murray against Federer

September 8, 2008

When Andy Murray squared up to Roger Federer for the US Open title, the smart money was on the former champion. But there were crumbs of hope for the romantics betting on the underdog

What considerations might lead anyone to back a player playing in his first Grand Slam final against one of the greatest of Tennis champions of the modern era?

Add to that the general view that the 21 year old Murray is still developing his game at the highest level, while the 27 year old Federer is still close to his awesome peak. as he demonstrated in beating Novak Djokovic in the Semi-finals.

No contest. But the odds offered on matchday offered were around 2/1 on Federer.

The immediacy bias

On of the famous biases in human judgement is known as the immediacy effect. Most people put to much weight in their decisions on the most recent bits of information. Murray played out of his skin to defeat World No 1 Raphael Nadal twenty four hours earlier, in a match interrupted by rain and extended over two days.

Rafa had recently snatched the No 1 slot from Federer. A great win for Murray.

Sky Sports summarizer was one Greg Rudzeski, who had been the last Brit to make a singles final for some years. (OK, an ex-Canadian, then).
Greg had been backing Federer to win, throughout the tournament. But now that Murray had outed Nadal, Greg flipped over. “It’s his destiny” he insisted. “He’s going to beat Roger. I’m going to change my pick. He’s playing better than Federer.”

For me, there are too many variables to reach a fully-convincing conclusion: Murray had lost five out of five matches to Nadal, and won two out of three matches against Federer. Nadal had beaten Federer in the final at Wimbledon this summer. Murray was likely to be more fatigued after his later completion of the Nadal game.

I suspect the betting is also biased by the proportion of the British Gambling public that is rooting for Murray. That is to say almost all Scots, and a rather smaller proportion of the English who are nostalgic for the days of Gentleman Tim Henman.

Tim, like Greg, thinks Murray will edge out the Fed. John MacInroe, and Nadal go with the bookies’ favourite.

Wisdom of the crowd says Federer. Track Record says Federer. Experience says Federer. So how come so many fans can’t wait for what they believe will be a close match?