He almost looked bored. Frustrated when he lost a point, but not because the loss threatened his domination, but rather his effort was a mere waste of time. Why bother when the result is inevitable?
In the semi finals of the Indian Wells Masters, Rafael Nadal played with every ounce of heart a champion could expect. As he so gallantly does, he fought for each ball as if it were the last he would ever hit. But the 4th ranked player in the world, arguably in the top 3 all time greats, still couldn’t touch the world number 1, in contention to be the best of all time, Novak Djokovitch.
With each passing winner that Novak hit, the gap between the gladiators grew further, and a rare sight was seen in men’s tennis, Rafa was defeated before the match was over. Outstanding lies in making the difficult look easy.
I’ve always loved competitive tennis because it’s so similar to poker. The pressure, the solidarity, the mental fortitude needed to thrive, the swings.
Here are the 4 aspects that reminded me of my time on the felt.
As a player’s confidence increases they go for more difficult shots. Novak played stellar tennis the entire time, but the near security of the win raised his game to another level, and he made shots that were truly outstanding.
In poker you see this all the time. A player wins a tournament then goes on to win another or a massive upswing ensues after a big victory. It’s not luck, it’s stepping into that player you always knew you could be.
With more room for margin and a bigger lead a player can take risks they otherwise wouldn’t. Novak went for shots on points where, if the match were closer, he may have played them more conservative. Being able to afford to lose gives one a massive competitive advantage.
In tournament poker as a players stack increases they can afford to apply pressure in spots where short stacks can’t. If you get an early lead, continue pounding the aggression.
The players are very good at mixing up their play. It’s very difficult, for example to determine where a player will hit their first serve. During the rally the best do a great job of utilizing a variety of shots that utilize the entire court.
There’s one area of improvement though. Second serves. Most players’ second serve is too predictable – an easy lob to get the point in – that the returning player can come in and attack from the start. Occasionally mixing in a full speed second serve (John McEnroe was famous for this), even at the risk of double faulting will keep the opponents guessing.
In poker one must balance their range to keep their opponents guessing, even in marginal situations. Sometimes you have to make a big call or run a huge bluff otherwise your game is just too predictable.
It’s incredible how much of a difference there is between even the most elite players. The match may have been close on paper, but it was clear to Stevie Wonder that Novak dominated.
Many are the levels of separation between athletes. Casual players can sometimes compete at a high school level, but once you reach college it’s game over for almost everyone.
The big leagues are another level of separation that is equally profound in talent.
The all stars fractionize the pros and the world’s best are a handful of people whom make even the All Stars look bad.
Poker players, like nearly all sports and competitive industries follow this pyramid as well. Most players are casual, very few are actually great and the best in the world are so much better than the rest that it’s truly a shame their talent isn’t appreciated like it is in other sports.
What makes poker unique is that everyone rates themselves two levels higher than they actually are. ♠