Federer’s Revenge

I wanted to write about the Andy MurrayRafael Nadal match but it’ll have to wait for tomorrow because there was too much good tennis for me to do it justice tonight. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with a funny video about a grunter, a new poll to figure out who’ll get the last spot in the year end championships, and a short bit about Federer and trading on betting exchanges.

Federer Beatdown

By the time I’d arrived in Indian Wells in March, Roger Federer had already lost his first match to Guillermo Canas. I was just plain annoyed but many people were shocked.

We understood it psychologically. Canas was convinced that he’d been suspended unfairly for being mistakenly given a banned substance by a tour-approved doctor. If you can’t trust a tournament doctor, who the hell can you trust? And what better way to express his frustration than knocking off the number one player.

As luck would have it, Canas got Federer again at the next tournament in Miami and beat him once again. Something appeared to be wrong with Federer in the first match but Canas outplayed him in the second. Federer was up a break in the third set and had two chances to go up another break but still lost the match.

This brings up an interesting question. Let’s say Federer was injured at Indian Wells, sprained ankle, blisters, whatever. On the one hand you don’t want to reveal your injury else your opponent will smell blood. On the other hand, if your opponent beats you and thinks he’s beaten you straight up, that could give him a huge psychological advantage and that advantage may have carried Canas through the match in Miami.

In case there was any doubt about the matter, Federer reminded us today that Canas is not someone he worries about. It took him only 21 minutes to bagel Canas in the first set. That was a statement.

Federer was all over Canas from the get go. Federer won 80% of the points on Canas’ second serve and he won 25 more points than Canas in the match. That’s a huge margin in a two set match. The final score was 6-0, 6-3.

Traders and Punters

I realized this week that users on betting exchanges are sometimes traders, not betters. (Betters in England are called punters.)

A betting exchange is an open market – like a stock market – and the commodities being traded are odds. In this case, odds that a tennis player will win a match or a horse will win a race or a soccer team will win a game.

Tennis punters bet on a player at particular odds. They research a player and figure out the likelihood that the player will win the match. Traders bet on the pattern of the odds. They study price patterns and figure out the likelihood that the odds will go up or down.

It’s like betting on the direction of the Dow Jones Index instead of buying or selling a stock.

Lots of trades in stock markets are made by software programs not humans. According to this report by Aite Group, about one third of U.S. trades in 2006 were made by computer software.

Given that, I wondered if there were software programs for trading on the tennis market on a betting exchange. And if there were programs, could they have contributed to some of the irregular betting patterns we’ve seen. Computers can trade a whole lot faster than humans and it’s possible a piece of software went wonky and started spewing out repeated $30,000 bets.

I spoke to a Betfair user and he told me that some traders use software to make their trades but it’s not likely that they produced irregular results. After all, I now realize, an irregular betting pattern isn’t a random betting pattern.

If you were fixing a match or had inside information, these irregular patterns would look very regular to you. They’d be exactly what you expected.

One last comment about gambling. Betfair pays out bets on any match that completes the first set. Wouldn’t it make sense to pay out on a match only if the match was completed by both players? It wouldn’t stop match fixing or trading on insider information, but it would help if there was insider information about an injury that led to a retirement.

This, by the way, is a plausible explanation for the Nikolay Davydenko/Martin Vassallo-Arguello match that started our recent fascination with gambling in tennis.

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