Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Match of the Season: Serena Stunned!

Well, my selections in the outright winner market for the women have left me looking like a right mug! Barthel limped out in pathetic fashion, Cirstea didn't put up much of a fight against the reigning champion and Serena Williams went crashing out against a rank outsider - all in the very first round. Whilst Barthel and Cirstea were just long shots for a bit of fun that I was never likely to make much from, Serena well and truly left me open mouthed.

I wasn't at all surprised that Virginie Razzano gave her a good game. She's a former top 20 player and playing in front of her home fans on a show court, was always going to put in a fighting performance. But to win and in the manner in which she did so (coming from a set and 5-1 down in the 2nd set tie-breaker and then going 5-0 up in the final set) was truly astonishing. It's for matches like this that you fully appreciate the beauty of Twitter because you could really feel the collected sense of astonishment. There was a general feeling of not only shock but awe, as the match unfolded to a spectacular crescendo.

Williams came from 5-0 down to 5-3 and with Razzano cramping and barely able to get the ball over the net when serving, saved 7 match points in the 9th game of the set, a game which lasted 25 minutes!! That final game really had it all, with Serena throwing away several chances at break-point with some shocking returns. She even had help from the umpire, who awarded Williams 2 free points after penalising the injured Razzano for screaming out in pain several times during rallies -  a clear distraction to her opponent. I held my breathe on every point, as my Serena/Novak double looked as though it was going to be safe but remarkably, the French-woman held on to win when she would surely have crumbled had she been pegged back to 5-4. I was annoyed that Williams chose this day to put in such a strange performance (her only loss on clay all year and first ever loss in the first round of a Grand Slam) but to witness such drama was worth every penny I lost.

Fortunately for me, the outright winner market is one I don't pay much attention to (this tournament was the first time I've placed a bet on this market). So whilst my pride is a little dented from the first round at Roland Garros, my actual in-play trading has more than atoned for this. Finally, I am beginning to have  a Grand Slam I can be proud of! And the fact is, I chose to bet on a double because the odds for Serena and Novak to win as singles simply had no value. It saved me from getting seriously burnt, as millions will have been yesterday. This is why I don't and will never, put up single match tips or picks on this blog. In my opinion, there is very rarely any decent value available at pre-match odds in the tennis markets and certainly very little compared to what you will find in-play. I'd say on an average week, I'll be lucky to find more than one match a day where I feel there is significant value pre-match. And more often than not, that one match will provide even better value in-play.

Yet recently, I seem to be seeing more and more people tipping sub-1.5 shots on blogs and Twitter. These people need to wake up; picking a massive odds-on favourite to win is not a decent tip! It's not even a tip, really! They don't seem to realise that it's such a low price because every man and his dog also thinks they are highly likely to win and there is always a damn good reason for that. Even in-play, finding value backing under 1.5 is very difficult but pre-match, it's almost non-existent. Anything under evens is hard work.

Serena Williams was about 1.05 at SP. Nadal was 1.04 when he lost to Verdasco recently. Both were gubbed from 1.01 in-play. If 2 of the best players in the world can lose at such prices, what is it that makes people think a 1.5 shot will be easy money? And to then complain about it afterwards, saying their player didn't try or that it was 'typical WTA' (probably the worst excuse I've ever heard for a loss - if it was so typical, why did you bet on it?!) is ridiculous. No I think the moral of this French Open so far for me has been 'Why gamble when you can trade?'.

The markets are particularly volatile this week and I noticed a significant change starting a week before, in the run up to Roland Garros. The in-play markets have been much jumpier than usual, with prices crazily being offered way out of line with the norm at times. I've  no doubt that this is because, with the football season over and a lull till the Euros, plus the attraction of a Grand Slam, there are a lot more new tennis traders in the market and they are not used to the quick pace and high volatility, so panic very easily. So opportunities are rife but a word of warning to any newbies - be careful! You've now seen with this incredible match (the best I've seen for excitement this year), everything that can happen in a tennis match and a tennis market!

OFF-COURT BEAUTY World number 70, American Sloane Stephens:

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Roland Garros: The Sultan's Selections

Yes, it's the second major tennis event of the year starting on Sunday but as I now say before every Grand Slam, it doesn't really mean anything to me. I traditionally do very poorly in the slams because I've always placed too much emphasis on them and thus, expected to gain far too much from them. This has lead me to attack them like a 'bull in a china shop', as I desperately try to take advantage of all the top quality matches that are on at once. Always, this has resulted in disaster. But this year I have a new attitude because I realise that there's no reason for me to treat the majors any differently to a standard week. Still, it's always an exciting tournament and with ITV surprisingly covering the event this year, it is likely to draw even more interest from people who wouldn't normally bet on tennis and that means more people who don't really know what they are doing - so certainly more opportunities to find value.

I think it's almost a foregone conclusion as to who will win both the men and women's event. We all know it'll be one of the big 4 of the ATP circuit and to be honest, if the winner is anyone other than Nadal or Djokovic, I will parade the streets buck naked but for a Chelsea top with 'John Terry is my Hero' on the back. I'm hardly sticking my neck out but I am going for Novak. Partly because it's the only slam he hasn't won, so he'll be going all out for this one in particular. But also because I watched the Rome final against Rafa and still cannot work out how he managed not to win. He dominated for the vast majority of the match but made schoolboy errors on key points, which cost him. It was an off day but he looked to have Nadal in his pocket almost at will and I'm pretty positive that he won't mess up a third time. I say 'third' because Rafa also beat him in the Monte Carlo final but I am disregarding that match as it was the same week that Novak's grandfather died and he was quite clearly distraught with grief and didn't appear up for it at all. My only worry is that he may still be mentally affected.

I don't think there is anyone in Nadal or Djokovic's quarter who could knock them out (Verdasco, Almagro and Tsonga over 3 sets, perhaps, but over 5 sets, I just don't see it) but Federer could face Berdych or Del Potro in the quarters and the Czech in particular is capable of troubling the Swiss. He would also have to beat Djokovic in the semi and then Nadal or Murray in the final - a highly unlikely string of events. Of course, he's already proven he can beat Djokovic at Roland Garros, as he knocked him out last year. But 2 weeks ago in Rome, Novak destroyed Roger in straight sets and I think we'd see a repeat performance.

Is Andy Murray REALLY at 50 to win? With Federer at 13 and Djokovic at 3's, it does seem rather a large gap when clearly, there is not such a large gap in talent. That said, he has a few potential banana-skins in his quarter of the draw and it wouldn't surprise me if he lost to Gasquet, Dolgopolov, Tomic, Ferrer or Isner! Him on a bad day and any of them on a good day and it's bye-bye miserable Scot! Ferrer aside, Murray's superior fitness normally tells over 5 sets against those players though.

In 2011, the women's final was wide open. I wrote on the blog that Kvitova, Zvonareva or Azarenka would be my picks, though acknowledged that any number of women also stood a chance. Not so in 2012. Quite simply, if Serena Williams plays anywhere near the level she's been playing recently, both in Charleston and in Rome, then she will be the French Open champion. She has gone up to a higher plain in recent months and it's a level that no one currently playing the game can reach. Henin or Clijsters at their best, yes, but neither is around now. Last year, Serena was just returning from the illness that threatened to end her life, so was never going to be ready for a run at a slam.

Li, Stosur, Azarenka, Kvitova and Sharapova all have a chance but only if Serena has an off day. Williams is on course to meet Sharapova in the quarters and either Li or Kvitova in the semis, so she hasn't got it easy by any stretch - a very tough bottom half of the draw. No one outside of the aforementioned (all of whom are playing reasonably well right now) will get a sniff, in my opinion. The top half of the draw is much weaker and Azarenka should meet Stosur in one quarter final. The other quarter of the top half is wide open, with Radwanska, Ivanovic, Venus Williams, Bartoli and Kerber all in with a shout of making the semis (I'm ruling out Goerges, Kuznetsova, Jankovic, Lisicki, Zvonareva and Wozniacki, as all of them are out of form, though as with Li last year, one of them might up her game enough to make the semi final).

Radwanska is a self-confessed hater of clay and her level has dropped slightly since the red-dirt season began. She's also in the Brussels final today, so it's asking a lot to go 3 straight weeks undefeated. Bartoli will fight till the cows come home especially in front of her home fans but she simply is not a good enough mover on this surface - lose some weight, you daft lass!! Venus is doing OK right now but her best days are long gone. Ivanovic is probably playing as well as she has done since she won Roland Garros a few years ago but she's not quite there yet - maybe in a year she'll have continued her upward progression enough to be a contender. If her serve is firing though, she could easily go right through to the semis. But I'd pick Kerber out of that lot and at 34.0, she's a decent dark horse for a trade, if you can get enough matched. She's improved more than any player over the past year and I can hardly believe I'm saying it but she has a real chance of making the French Open final!

So I've gone for a Novak/Serena double, as single odds are of no great value. And I've already put a cheeky few quid on Kerber and a rank outsider - Sorana Cirstea at 700. The young Romanian made her big entrance onto the scene when she reached the quarter finals in 2009. After a great season, she has since dropped outside the top 100 but this year, she's back in the top 50, which is undoubtedly where she belongs with her talent. More than capable of beating many of the top players on her day, she could be the one who knocks out a big gun and that price won't take long to fall and enable me to green up. Unfortunately, she'll have to do that in her very first match cos she's drawn Li Na in round 1 - just my luck! Ah well, might have a fiver on Mona Barthel, just for fun! Can't wait to see how she fares. Also look out for France's Caroline Garcia, the young girl who was a set and 4-1 up against Maria Sharapova last year, almost beat Jankovic this year and is a massive talent that no one will want to draw.

OFF-COURT BEAUTY World number 83, Alize Cornet of France:

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Barmy Barthel: Future Grand Slam Champion

If you've never seen her before, Mona Barthel is an unusual player. A quiet, tall, elegant figure with an etiquette school posture, languid walk and sweeping, graceful strokes that are so naturally gifted, it's frightening what she can do with such ease. She's 21 but, as with all the German girls, came onto the tour later than most to finish studying, so is still a newcomer. She burst into the top 50 this year and is now at 32 but is a guaranteed future top 10 player and will win slams, in my opinion. She's already beaten top 10 players and came close not once but twice, to beating Victoria Azarenka this year. There is no big weakness in her game (though defensively, she's not great) but mentally, she is very, very up and down. That's not unusual for an inexperienced player but Barthel seems to lose concentration mid-game, so one moment she is battering her opponent, the next she goes off the boil and can't win a point for love nor money. There doesn't appear to be a 'plan B' for when she veers away from her best. I'm sure that will develop as she matures but right now, you never can be sure what she will do next - not great for traders!

An example of her prodigious talent was a match she played in Strasbourg this week. Her opponent, Alexandra Panova, (ranked 77) took the first set. Barthel then proceeded to blatantly tank the match. A more obvious show of disinterest I have never seen and I am not one of those poeple who shout 'tank!' or 'fix!' every other match. It was clear she wasn't interested in progressing further,  with the French Open next week. But at 5-0 down in set 2, she suddenly decided to stop deliberately hitting the ball into the net and played as she can - sublimely. It was hilarious to watch, as she literally toyed with poor Panova. Every game was a complete mis-match, as she drew level at 5-5 amidst a blur of winners and total dominance. At that point, she stopped playing again and Panova had 2 match points at 6-5. Barthel saved the second with an ace, as cool as you like, eventually sending the set to a tie break. The German then played a series of dreadful shots, sending Panova 6-2 up in the tie break. It was then as if Barthel had decided 'I'm gonna rescue all 4 match points, just to show this girl who's boss'. And that's exactly what she did, with every point a winner. At set point, Barthel then gave up and  Panova won (or rather Barthel lost) the next 3 points to secure passage through to round 2. Extraordinary.

Some would say a disgrace (and I can't argue with them, especially as it was only round 1 and several days till Roland Garros) but it's not every day you see a player so gifted that they can just turn it on like a switch and win points at will. What poor Panova made of it, I'd like to know. The Russian was busting a gut trying to prevent an almighty gubbing (she traded at around 1.03) and although she played well, she must've known that it was entirely up to Barthel who would win. To have someone show not only the match but you as the opponent, such disdain, must be infuriating. In all honesty, someone needs to have a word with Mona because it was disrespectful towards the WTA as well as Panova and the paying fans. If she gets a reputation for that, she will become a target for other players. There is an air of arrogance about her; she's good but she certainly knows it. I think she's currently coached by her mother, which might be why she gets away with this behaviour.

It's not the first time I've seen her toy with opponents, though usually she goes on to win, not throw the game so blatantly. I actually tweeted after one game that it was the worst game of tennis I'd ever seen from a pro - and I stand by it. She hit all 4 points either out of play or into the net, no rallying, and wasn't even close to winning the point each time. I was more annoyed that she didn't win the set though. I laid Panova at 1.05, so was in line for a big green if she'd only taken her set point. Watch out for her at Roland Garros! She must be up for it if she can't even be bothered to play a tournament she could well have won (and she's never won a WTA event by the way). Andrea Petkovic won Strasbourg last year and Sharapova the year before that, so it's not as if the big names aren't interested.

Mona Barthel is about 60.0 in the Roland Garros winners market, which puts her into the top 10 Betfair faves, ahead of Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams - and Ivanovic won it a few years ago. So there really is little value in backing her in my opinion, as everyone who is into tennis is well aware of her and her potential now. In fact, you'd have done quite well laying her in recent months, as the markets have ridiculously over-priced her against far more experienced players many times. This includes Caroline Wozniacki, who beat her comfortably despite starting the match as the clear outsider (Barthel was around 1.6 I think). She won't win the French Open but a decent run is on the cards and her price is very likely to come in - maybe enough for a trade.

OFF COURT BEAUTY World Number 76, Anne Keothavong of Britain:

Monday, 21 May 2012

You'd Better Know Yourself

May has been another good month so far, although for the first time in many weeks, I had a bit of a blip for a few days. By that, I don't mean a bad run of variance, I mean that mentally, I lost my way - a few doubts crept in briefly. To be a top trader, it's vital that you are able to know whether you hit a bad spell due to variance or because you are doing the wrong things. That's a skill which I've developed this year and has been important in keeping myself mentally stable. It's so easy to become disheartened during a bad spell and  to start messing around with your strategy, chasing or fearing the market but if you can recognise what the cause of the bad spell is, it leaves you with a much stronger chance of coming out of it relatively unscathed.

Many traders will prematurely blame the strategy for their poor run of reds and that can lead them to ditch it, in the false belief it doesn't work, when in truth, it was just variance. That also goes vice-versa, because some traders will think they are just going through variance, when in fact, they do not recognise that they have slipped into bad habits or that the system is indeed not a good one. A more experienced trader will usually know if it is variance at work because they know themselves better than a novice trader does. By that, I mean that they will understand how their mind reacts to certain situations and what triggers their behavioural patterns. When you begin to notice when and why you start to lose control of your trading, that means you are now working on another level. Once you are aware of  your own flaws, bad habits and mental weaknesses, it means that you are able to analyse yourself and that means you can start to rectify any mistakes you are making, swiftly.

I think the ability to know yourself well, is much under-rated as a trading skill. When we first delve into trading, we all probably think we know ourselves pretty well. But if anything can test that theory, putting yourself in a pressure position where you can rapidly lose money, is the acid test. I have said a few times on this blog in the past, that I didn't trust myself because I didn't know what I was going to do from one day to the next. I never knew which Sultan would turn up - the awful, self-destructive, wreck-head or the one who, when he put it all together, was a pretty decent trader. The truth is, I still don't 100% know which one will turn up! But the difference today, is that when wreck-head turns up (very rare these days), I know the first signs and have plans in place to catch it before any damage is done. Basically, I know myself.

Some days, I'll know as soon as I get out of bed, that my mindset isn't right for trading. Other days, I won't know until I actually start trading but I almost always recognise it early and never, ever let it fester - I take action immediately.  Sometimes, I can overcome it simply by doing something different; going out for a run, blogging for half an hour or having a shower. On other occasions, I might need to do something trading related, such as go through my notes, read some positive affirmations or study past results. If things are really bad, I may have to not trade at all. What I've come to realise over the past few weeks, is that rather than fighting myself constantly, I need to accept who I am. So rather than forcing myself to improve focus whilst trading and getting frustrated when my head isn't in the right place, I just accept that I'm not in the right frame of mind and go and do something else. Sounds simple but it's not so easy to do in reality.

Full-time traders often find this difficult because they feel that they can't afford to miss matches and part-time traders can also find it a challenge because they don't have as much opportunity to trade, so don't want to miss out on the games when they have time. But I believe that the most important trading tool isn't your PC, or your trading software, or your bank size or even your strategy - it's your mind. And just as if you don't look after your PC or your bank, you can end up in a lot of trouble if you don't treat it with care. If you can recognise the first signs of fatigue, boredom, tilt, chasing, fear, anger, lack of focus, over-confidence etc, then you are in a good position to rectify your issues.

Fighting these emotions is a battle most of us are not going to win in that moment. That's why I just accept I can't win and go and do whatever I need to do to sharpen up my 'tool'. Because I know that if I only ever trade at or close to my optimum mindset level (and you start to understand when that is as you get more experienced) I am always going to trade well. And if I'm still in a bad spell after that, I will know for sure that it's either just variance or my strategy is crap and needs an overhaul!

NB. After writing this post, I discovered a blog post by Ian Erskine, who I'm sure most of you will know primarily as a football trader. If you are not sure that what I've been saying is the way to go, then maybe this recent post from Ian (whose been trading a lot longer and more successfully than I have) will convince you:

Habit Forming and Self Control

He also talks about knowing yourself, as well as a lot of the psychological stuff I've been writing about for ages now.

OFF-COURT BEAUTY World number 48, Simona Halep of Romania (post and pre-op pics!):

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Do As The Romans Do

I must say, I'm really enjoying the tennis from Rome this week. It follows on from last week's Madrid Open, which was also a joint ATP and WTA event. That similarity aside, the differences are night and day. Firstly, no blue clay! The red-dirt is back and as a consequence, we are seeing much better tennis. Whilst players movement was restricted due to the slippy Smurf surface (meaning 'first-strike' tennis became prevalent as players tried to just hit the ball for winners rather than construct rallies), the slow clay of Rome sees a return to normal clay-court tennis. That means better constructed points, more breaks of serve, more variety of shot and overall, much more interesting matches. And because the balls are not flying as quickly through the thin air of Madrid, we are seeing longer rallies due to better defensive plays.

But where Madrid should really take a leaf out of Rome's book, is in the atmosphere created. The 'Caja Magica' complex in Madrid, may be a spectacular looking tennis stadia, but in building it, they seem to have forgotten about the most important aspect of any tournament - the fans. The centre court is surrounded by expensive-looking 'executive' boxes, which you'll often see are empty for the most part, until the big matches in the latter stages. The number of these seats seems much more than in most tournaments and they seem to go back a fair way into the arena. They are usually filled by the sort of people who you can tell are only there because it's the fashionable thing to be seen in a posh-box at a tennis event. Most probably were given corporate tickets. They turn up in their suits and posh frocks, hoping that Will Smith or Christiano Ronaldo will be close by - which they often are!

The problem with that is, it generates a staid atmosphere. The people in these boxes are not true enthusiasts and the few that are will certainly not show it! So it's polite applause all-round but little else, as the real, ordinary fans are stuck out the back of the arena in the cheap seats. And I don't know what they were charging for tickets but I hardly ever saw a full arena outside centre court for any match. There were some belting match-ups on outside courts played in front of tiny crowds, where every cough and rustle could be heard, like at a Challenger Tour event. For a Masters 1000 (Premier Mandatory for the women) that's a shameful thing. I know the Spanish economy is in deep trouble now but it's not as bad as Italy's and the Rome event is showing that even in times of fiscal torment, the people will turn up if you do things right.

Firstly, they have put the ordinary tennis fan first. The stadiums are packed with people of all ages, not just middle-aged corporate clean-shirts, and even the outside courts attract a reasonable crowd. Everyone is afforded a decent view, no matter where they are sat, as the courts (particularly centre court) have a Colosseum-style design, with high, steep sides in a bowl shape, as opposed to Madrid's shallow-sided boxes. Instead of reams of walled-off, individual executive boxes taking up all the space, as many seats as possible have been crammed in. This creates a fantastic atmosphere when full and because most people are just ordinary Romans and tennis fans, they have come to enjoy the actual tennis and more importantly, enjoy themselves. So matches are often loud, raucous and supported with passion and enthusiasm - the complete opposite of Madrid.

They seem to have the pricing policy right in Rome and everywhere you see around the complex, people are milling about, moving between games. I think that's partly because the smaller courts are designated free areas i.e. you don't need a ticket to watch (just a ticket into the grounds). Fantastic idea. And I am certain that players respond better when the atmosphere is good. The matches I've seen this week have surpassed most of what I saw in Madrid by some distance. And with the sun shining constantly over the open arenas, rather than casting shadows or shut off by the intruding roof in Madrid, it just looks like a fun place to be. Take note tournament organisers across the world - it's all about the fans at the end of the day.

OFF-COURT BEAUTY World number 97 Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic:

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Gubbing To End All Gubbings

Well I'm sure by now that every trader will have heard about the miraculous 1.01 gubbing that Rafael Nadal took at the Madrid Open. Whilst 1.01 is over-turned quite regularly in tennis, this one was a true shocker. Firstly, Nadal was 5-2 up in the final set. Secondly, he was on his favourite surface, one very few have ever beaten him on. Thirdly, he was in front of his home crowd in Spain. Finally, he was playing Fernando Verdasco, a guy he'd beaten on each of the 13 times they'd met previously.

Putting aside the fact that the blue clay obviousy put Nadal out of his comfort zone, this was a comeback that no one could have expected, probably least of all Verdasco himself! I've said before on this blog that Verdasco is one of the few players who has the game to beat Nadal. Ok, he's never done it before but he has come very close in the past. And out of everyone, Verdasco is the closest in style to Nadal. So I'm not that surprised that Verdasco won the match but was certainly surprised that he came back from a double-break down to win. So much so, that at 5-2, I actually switched off! I certainly wasn't one of the 1.01 layers which took millions of pounds from that win.

I have to say though, out of all the matches to choose to lay 1.01, I don't understand why anyone would have picked that one. Laying 1.01 on every tennis match will get you nowhere long term, so you have to be selective and randomly laying Nadal serving for the match will definitely put you in the red eventually! Nadal plays roughly 80 games every year. If you lay 1.01 for £100 on every game he hits 1.01, you'd only need to hit one winner to profit. But let's face it, how often would he lose a match where he traded at 1.01 in an average season? I can answer that - hardly ever. He only loses to Djokovic, Federer or Murray usually and his price will only hit 1.01 when he's actually won the match in most of those occasions (unless he had a massive lead in the final set, in which case, he almost certainly would win). It's a non-starter as a strategy really. Plus, you'd need to have some balls to have let that Verdasco trade run through to the end of the match for the full green. I doubt many people did that.

But there is no doubt that the occasional 1.01 lay with well selected matches, can reap big rewards. The real value, in my opinion, was in laying Nadal in that first set. He was about 1.04 at the start, so a choice between laying SP or laying 3 ticks better when Nadal is serving for the match, I know which one makes most sense to me!

I have to admit, my tactic was always to back Nadal at a better price but in my opinion, Nadal's price was NEVER value at any point in that match. OK, you can ask why I didn't lay Nadal as there was clearly some value there but there's a simple reason for that; I don't trust Verdasco! I actually hate him as a player and he's just far too unpredictable for my liking. I prefer to be on players who are easier to read. Nadal's price did rise, so my plan worked but was only 1.35 to back after losing set 1 - quite obviously a terrible price, so I didn't get involved. He didn't go higher than that until he was pegged back in the final set. So I saved myself a lot of sweating by not getting involved. Of course, many traders will have greened up at 1.01 after backing at 1.35 but I can guarantee you that many won't have (and why would you? He was 5-2 up!). But for such a poor risk-reward ratio, why even put yourself in that situation? There are very few match-ups where I would even consider backing a player below 2.0 when a set down, never mind 1.35. But it's Nadal on clay and this fact blinds a lot of traders, who can only see 'easy' money. Well if this gubbing to end all gubbings doesn't sway those backers into a different way of trading, nothing will.

OFF-COURT BEAUTY World number 70, Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands:

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Smurf Clay

I thought I'd have my say on the new surface we have seen in Madrid this week. If you aren't aware, the joint men and women's event in the Spanish capital has got tongues wagging with a unique blue dye which has been added to the clay. It's a first for a European clay surface, though it has to be said, the vast majority of hard courts are some shade of azure already, so it doesn't strike me as being all that 'alternative'. The real furore though, has been over the way the players have struggled to adapt to the feel of the 'Smurf' clay (as Milos Raonic dubbed it). It's very noticeable watching, that more instances of slippage are occurring than you'd normally get on the red-brown clay and this has been the source of most complaints. They just don't seem to be able to get the grip required to move and set themselves to strike the ball properly. And when the ball flies so quickly through the air (as it does with Madrid being at altitude) it makes it even harder to recover defensively in time to retrieve shots. Novak Djokovic gave a great insight into what it is like playing on this surface:

Djokovic said after a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Spain's Daniel Gimeno-Traver: "I hit five balls [properly] throughout the whole match. Everything else, I was just trying to put the ball in the court. So I just relied on my serve and getting some points eventually from his unforced errors. For me that's not tennis."

He's not the only one complaining, although I did read this article in The Independent, which appears to claim that world number 2 Petra Kvitova lost to world number 105 Lucie Hradecka because of the surface, which caused her to drop serve 5 times. Hmmm, funny how people have to look for excuses for top players struggling. I saw Hradecka's following match and she was simply serving superbly and didn't appear to be having too many issues with the court as she dispatched Makarova to reach the quarter finals. If she served like that against Kvitova, I'm not surprised she did so well. I also watched the aforementioned Djokovic match and Gimeno-Traver was playing the match of his life - where is the credit he so richly deserves for making a match of a game which everyone expected to be a breeze for the world number one? One blogger even suggests that the surface could be to blame for Federer being taken to a third set tie break by Milos Raonic. Has the writer never seen Raonic play? This guy has the biggest serve on the tour and can take absolutely any player right to the wire because he's so tough to break. I wasn't at all surprised at that result.

You can argue that Gimeno-Traver, Raonic and Hradecka had played a round or two more, so had more time to get used to the surface, but surely they will have practised on it somewhere beforehand? Besides, Kvitova comfortably beat Erakovic in her first match. So whilst I agree that the surface needs to change next year, let's not start blaming it for the inadequacies of the top players to adapt. It's the kind of moaning you expect to hear on the Betfair forum. In fact, you can bet your bottom dollar that forumites have been complaining about all-red screens caused by Papa Smurf. Whenever a top player gets upset by a lower ranked individual, it's commonplace to see traders looking for reasons how this could possibly have happened; anything from 'tanking', to match fixing, to an incredulous run of bad luck or poor umpiring decisions. Just accept that 1.2 shots do occasionally lose because they were actually outplayed! If you are stupid enough to keep backing that low, you are going to get gubbed sooner or later. If the blue clay has created uncertainty in the markets (as suggested may be a factor, by Peter Webb), I have not noticed any. I certainly haven't traded any differently this week. Kvitova getting knocked out is the only real shock of the tournament so far anyway.

The Mutua Madrilena tournament has always tried to be a little different. You may remember it introduced female models as the ball girls a few years ago - a most welcome addition. Apparently, they are bringing in fluorescent green or orange balls for 2013. I'd love to see them used on black tinted clay - now that would be truly striking and innovative!

OFF COURT BEAUTY World Number 88, Mathilde Johansson of France:

Friday, 4 May 2012


With things going so well with my trading, I'm thinking of taking the blog in a slightly different direction. I will still always update if anything of interest happens with my trading but unless I have either a drastic downturn or massive upturn, there isn't a lot to left to say in detail about my own trading. I'll probably be writing more about my thoughts on the tennis in future. Having this blog has really helped me to become a better trader in terms of recording my mistakes and thoughts about how to improve. But now, its role is maybe best served as a way of keeping me focused.

One of the things I still struggle with the most is maintaining concentration for long periods. When you trade for 8 hours a day almost every day, it's very hard not to lose focus and that can have a severe effect on your trading. The temptation is always there to have a surf on the web, check emails and Facebook and Twitter etc but I find all that detrimental to my trading. I have several techniques for dealing with that, (such as stretching, music, taking a break) but often, it's a lack of varied mental stimulus that is the real issue. Whilst the general Internet can be too distracting, blogging at least keeps me mentally on the right page, as I'll still be writing about trading and tennis. But getting too involved in my posts has, in the past, actually distracted me too much from trading. So it may be that I decide to write more bite-sized posts but more frequently, as a way of aiding my focus.

I would say that if one factor is going to prevent me from continued success, it will be a lack of focus. When I'm 100% 'on it' and mentally prepared, I rarely make mistakes. But I know that it's not possible to be 100% focused all day, every day. Coming to terms with this and then finding ways to manage a drop in or lack of focus, has been an on-going battle for a long time now. I feel it's the aspect of my trading that remains the biggest stumbling block (now that my mindset is much stronger) and so I'll be working on that goal more than any other during May. My plan is as follows:

1. A complete ban on all Internet-based distractions during a trading session.

2. A proper break of at least 20 minutes each day, where I do something not related to trading.

3. No trading qualifying matches on a Sunday (finals only).

4. Switch off completely from trading once the session is over - no extra note-taking, reading or analysis.

5. Learn to catch any loss of concentration earlier and take action - either exercise, take a break or listen to some music.

6. If I start to get bored and need extra stimulus, make some tennis / trading related notes for possible use on the blog.

7. If I still cannot focus despite all the above, stop trading for the entire day.

No. 7 is a completely new addition and something I've only just decided to try. I've always traded with the attitude that I want to watch as many games as possible to allow me as many possible opportunities to make money. I now realise that there is no need for me to trade this way. My risk-reward ratio is strong enough that I only need to win a handful of trades a week to make a hefty profit, so I don't need to use this 'scatter-gun' approach. I need to be going more for quality rather than  quantity and this means that I don't need to trade as many games as I have been. This is great focus-wise, because if I am not 100% on any given day, it won't matter so much if I miss a few matches. In the past, I would have fretted about missing games and forced myself to trade even when I wasn't mentally prepared. Now, I won't be afraid to just take the entire day off if need be.

If I can improve the consistency of my focus levels, I'm positive I will improve the consistency of my trading - and ultimately, the consistency of my profit.

OFF COURT BEAUTY World Number 144, Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia:

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

April: The Results

It would be very easy for me to start getting carried away now. April is officially my best ever month of tennis trading. Everything really gelled for me; strategy, confidence, focus, professionalism and most importantly, mindset. I was pretty much in the zone for the entire month. Sure, there were one or two minor blips but absolutely nothing major and when I did make errors, they didn't affect me badly. I actually felt my trading getting stronger and tighter towards the end of April and I think that's largely down to the extra psychology work I have done from 'The Mental Game of Poker'. If there were any little gremlins that needed to be stomped out of my mindset, this book is well and truly quashing them. Check out my 5 Psychology School Sessions, if you want to know more.

But I'm not going to get carried away. I'm still only using small stakes (liability still no larger than £50), so I will have to eventually test my ability to deal with larger stakes at some point. I also know that the hard work mustn't slacken off, which could prove to be tricky. I've put in so much effort this year in particular, that I can feel the onset of burn-out becoming an issue. I didn't deal well with it last year but I know the dangers now, so should be better equipped to nip it in the bud. Then of course, there is the problem of over-confidence which I mentioned in my last post. Again though, I have the experience of going through that before, so I am always monitoring my mental state closely.

My goals remain exactly the same for May; to change nothing at all and become even more consistent. I want all aspects of my trading to be trained to the level of unconscious competence i.e. I want my daily routines to become so ingrained that I just do them automatically. That goes from warming up and reviewing goals before I trade, to taking notes, to keeping focused, to remaining mentally balanced, to executing the strategy correctly and to analysing performance at the end of the day. I still know there are areas where I can improve in consistency and that's quite an exciting thought because it means that my best is still yet to come. That's why I won't be upping stakes just yet. Once I feel I'm at the unconscious competence stage with everything, then I will step things up to the next level - and that could mean a move into some serious profit-making.

OFF COURT BEAUTIES World Number 93 and 240, sisters Anastasia and Arina Rodionova of Australia and Russia respectively: