Saturday, 4 June 2011

Becoming Sharapova

Is there anyone in the game with a stronger mentality than Maria Sharapova? Certainly not in the women's game. And I'll tell you something for a fact, she has a tougher mind than ATP world number 4 Andy Murray! Murray gets angry with himself on court, chunters away to his team and berates his poor play with profanity and the kind of sulky, heel-dragging body language that you would expect of a 5 year old. Murray often doesn't wake up until he's lost the first set and regularly let's players back into matches when he is cruising comfortably. Sharapova is the complete opposite. She plays every point with the same steely intensity, whether it's the first point of the match, 6-0 and 5-0 ahead or a set down. And when she plays a bad point, she does that little routine where she goes quietly to the back of the court, turns her back, looks at her racquet, re-focuses, puts the last mistake behind her, turns around and just gets straight back on with the game as though it had never happened. I remember ages ago, someone on the Betfair forum was moaning about how Maria never smiles and plays with a face like a 'slapped arse'. Well mate, that's what they call 'focus'. It's pure, 100% determination to win at all times and that's what marks out those who are great champions from those who are also-rans.

We traders need to take a leaf out of Sharapova's book, with the way she plays and deals with adversity and probably do the opposite to Andy Murray. I can guarantee you he would struggle with trading! Whilst he was 5-0 down to Victor Troicki, grumbling about his bad ankle and looking as though he was barely even trying, Sharapova, a set and 4-1 down to Caroline Garcia and getting thoroughly outplayed, never changed her attitude for one moment. She knew she was getting out-hit by a player on fire and just needed to dig in, not get frustrated, show her opponent she wasn't worried and wait for the storm to pass. She never gave in at any point and though she was struggling, she never let her opponent see that she was in trouble, with her expressions.

Yes, Murray came back against the Serb but only because he suddenly decided with one more game till he lost the set, to stop moaning and feeling sorry for himself and actually focus on his game-plan. He changed by becoming more aggressive and knuckling-down but where was that at the start? You can argue that he still won but he left it too late to win that first set and did it the hard way when there was no need. Whenever he focused, he was the best player by a mile. You get the feeling he almost needs to fall behind before he produces his best. Or maybe he just under-estimates lesser opponents? He wouldn't be the only player like that but would Federer or Nadal have that attitude? Not a chance! And neither would the top women's stars, such as the Williams sisters, who always look to dominate, win every point and end the game as quickly as possible.

As a trader, my ultimate goal is to achieve that level of consistency, where I'm always calm during a storm, where I always have a high level of concentration, where I never under-estimate any situation I'm in and where I can brush off any mistakes as though they never happened. How close am I to achieving this? Well, out of those 4 goals I mentioned, I failed on at least one occasion for all of them this week. But I don't expect to have a blemish free record these days. I know it's not possible for me to be 100% all day every day. But what I can say is that the level of consistency for these goals is a million times better than it was a couple of months ago and is improving week by week. I'm getting close to becoming Sharapova - and leaving behind the Andy Murray within!

Just a quick note on this weekend's French Open finals. The women play today and it's a final that not many would have predicted at the start of the tournament. Both women have had very similar seasons; an excellent Australian Open followed by 4 months of abject performances, where they could barely string two wins together. They have peaked at just the right time, whilst other players with much better form coming into Roland Garros, have tailed off. Li Na has had a much tougher route to the final and I would make her slight favourite. However, the memory of her loss to Clijsters in Australia, where she threw away a set lead, may come back to haunt her, whilst Frankie has been here and done it before and loves the big match atmosphere. If I had to pick a winner, I'd go with Li Na simply because she has impressed me so much during the week with her level of play. Besides, she knocked out my 2 major tips for the title, so it will make me feel better if she takes the crown!

As for the men, I'm still reeling from Federer's performance against Djokovic. It was an awesome match of the highest quality, up there with Murray v Djokovic from Rome. Fed surprised everyone with his level of play; gone were the massive shanks and shaky back-hands which had been so prevalent in recent meetings with the world number one and two and we saw the return of his unplayable, clutch serving and reliable, dominant forehand. Djokovic still somehow managed to almost drag him back from 2 sets down and had it gone to a 5th set, I would have fancied the Serb. But Roger was playing tennis at a level we've not seen from him for many months, if not years. With that in mind, you'd have to give him a much stronger chance of winning than anyone would have at the start of Roland Garros. Nadal is still not at his best, though the windy conditions of the semi final made his performance seem less impressive than it actually was. I haven't got much right in my predictions for this tournament so I won't even attempt to pick a winner here.......OK I will - Nadal! Purely for the fact that Djokovic was still in a great position to win that 4th set, despite Federer's fantastic display. Over 5 sets, I always fancy the Spaniard.

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