What is virtual tennis & how do you watch it?

hannahwilks in Features 25 Mar 2020
Virtual tennis as it is played on bet365.com

What is virtual tennis, how do you watch it and how does it compare to the real thing?

Some of you might be familiar with virtual tennis as part of bookmakers’ offerings – but many tennis fans might never have heard of it, and be immensely confused by the very concept. ‘Virtual tennis? Is that like Wii tennis?’, you might be asking.

I had never heard of such a thing as virtual tennis before a few days ago. And when I did hear of it, I asked: ‘Virtual tennis? Is that a thing? And more importantly, is it a thing that can fill the actual tennis-shaped hole in my life?’

Let’s find out.

What is virtual tennis?

Virtual tennis is exactly what it sounds like – simulated, artificial tennis.

You can find it on various bookmaker websites, including Coral and Unibet among others, but I am going to focus on the version available on bet365 which seems to be the smoothest and most plentiful.

Bet365 virtual tennis takes the form of an endless tournament called the ‘Matthews Open’, a generic grass-court tournament clearly modelled on Wimbledon and featuring bet365 signage (which is a nice touch, but risks opening up a Matrix-style rabbit hole if you ponder why bet365 still needs to advertise in a fictional universe which they entirely control and which is only accessible via their own website).

There are no rounds, no draw and no final – just endless matches (a bit like the first six days of the ATP Finals).

Each ‘match’ consists of a single service game between two imaginary players, and the object of the game is to predict the winner; the total number of points; and the correct score (‘Win-15’ means the serving player won the game 40-15, and so forth).

You can tell it’s a fictional tennis match because the British player won

There is a new ‘match’ every three minutes on bet365.

Interestingly, though, these fictional players – presumably automatically generated via some sort of algorithm – do repeat, and players do seem to have individual characteristics. The most obvious example is that some players have single-handed backhands, such as Dimitrios Sanna below.

I have yet to encounter a left-hander in perhaps an hour of watching these three-minute games, but there are definitely some players who favour certain styles – Leopold Bischof here is fond of a foray to the net, for example:

The fact that these players do recur in subsequent matches gives you, at least, the illusion of being able to predict the result ahead of time, like you would be able to in an actual tennis match by knowing the rankings, performance history and styles of the players.

How do you watch virtual tennis?

Very easily, it turns out.

Simply go to the bet365 website and sign in, or register for an account if you haven’t got one.

Click on ‘Virtual Sports’ on the left-hand side menu.

Then scroll along the menu bar to ‘Tennis’ (take my advice and don’t accidentally click on ‘Trotting’).

You must be 18+ to have an account with bet365 or to watch or bet on virtual tennis. Terms and conditions apply. Be gamble aware.

How does virtual tennis compare to watching actual tennis?

The answer’s not quite a resounding yes – but it actually comes a lot closer than you might think.

First, the experience of watching virtual tennis actually replicates a lot of the patterns and rhythms with which regular tennis watchers are intimately familiar, from the conventional camera angle to the body language of the players when they respond to an unforced error, for example, with a disbelieving stare.

While the matches consist of single service games, virtual tennis also eliminates the time spent between the points – no watching players amble around the back of the court, call for a ballkid to bring them a sweaty towel, bounce the ball 50 times, ‘adjust’ themselves, berate their support teams or any of the familiar 20-25-second time-wasting tactics we have become inured to. (So in that sense, it’s actually better than watching contemporary men’s tennis.)

It helps that virtual tennis includes certain things which you would think are totally irrelevant to betting on the match, but which do add a massive dose of authenticity – such as Hawkeye challenges, for example, or changing a camera angle:

Another good thing about virtual tennis? Computer-generated players don’t kick up a fuss when Hawkeye confirms a call


Say what you will about Zlatan Dragovic, he certainly pulls in the virtual crowds

Further verisimilitude is conferred by the fact that computer-generated players are just as unpredictable as the real ones. I don’t know how you begin to write an algorithm for the kind of bone-headed drop-shot attempt into the net which, in a ‘real’ match, would have whole swathes of the crowd face-palming; or for the surge of adrenaline which leads to snatching at a short ball right on top of the net with an open court. But the fact that players choke, make mistakes and commit errors in an entirely believable fashion makes it an awful lot like watching actual tennis.

As for those who miss betting on tennis, the number of different betting markets available on a virtual match is obviously much, much smaller than those available on an actual match. You can only bet on the winner of the match (i.e. single service game), the scoreline and the total number of points. But the limited variables do really boil tennis down to its essentials and focus the mind on trying to beat the house. There are only so many ways to win a point, after all. If you’re betting on tennis, you’re simply trying to predict what will happen. It could be argued that virtual tennis actually distils this pleasure into its purest form.