Ask the question “Who is the best
(insert sport here) player of all time?” and the probability of a
consensus answer is low. One of the reasons the topic is so interesting is
because performance in sport is always relative to your competition.

Golf is good example. Jack Nicklaus has won
18 majors in his career, Tiger Woods is second on the list with 15, Walter
Hagen third with 11 and Ben Hogan and Gary Player shares 4th place
with 9 each. However, all of these players ‘winning-spans’, bar Nicklaus and
Player, do not overlap at all. Nicklaus has a winning-span of 1962 – 1986,
Woods 1997 – 2019, Hagen 1914 – 1929, Hogan 1946 – 1953 and player 1959 – 1978.
You can make the argument that these players were just so good that they did
not give their opponents a chance; however, you cannot make the same argument when
it comes to tennis.

Roger Federer is the player with the most
majors, currently, with 20 Grand Slam Tournaments. Second is Rafael Nadal with
19, followed by Novak Djokovic with 17, Pete Sampras on 14 and Roy Emerson on
12. Mr. Emerson, the first man to win 12 major titles has a winning-span from
1961 – 1967. Pete Sampras, the man to break Roy Emmerson’s 30 year record had a
winning span from 1990 – 2002. Novak Djokovic won his first title in 2008 and
the last in the recent 2020 Australian Open. Nadal bagged his first major in
2005, no points for guessing at which tournament and his last in the 2019 US
Open. Whereas Roger Federer’s span ranged from 2003 to his last major title at
the 2018 Australian Open. Arguably, based purely on Grand Slam Tournament wins,
the three best players to ever play the game, has a winning span that overlaps,
with all three players plying, for 10 years!

Have we been in the midst of a major
outlier effect? I would argue yes. Even though the dataset of golf and tennis
is very small and far from complete, two types of sport where skill plays a
much larger role than luck, there might be a distinct reason why these three
legends of the tennis game have managed to stay on top for so long. And, for
the sake of this article, the reason is that they focus on what is in their
control by making the smallest number of unforced errors.

The website tennisabstract.com provides a
plethora of statistics on the game and a must visit for tennis lovers. It is a
well-known statistic in tennis that the players that make the least errors win
the game, though, there is one type of unforced error that Federer, Nadal and
Djokovic has limited versus the competition and that is the double – fault.

An unforced error by definition is an error
made by your own doing and not forced upon you by your opponent, almost
something that is avoidable. I would argue there are unforced errors and then
there are unforced errors. A forehand, backhand and net unforced error is ensued
through returning a shot from your opponent.

When you serve on the other hand, bar the
wind or sun in your eye, you are the only variable. If you serve a
double-fault, YOU are responsible for the error, 100%.  Given, you can have a defensive/low quality
second serve and rarely serve a double-fault, but to be a professional tennis
player, this is rarely if ever the case.

Focusing on unforced errors, tennisabstract
determined the tour average of unforced errors attributable to double-faults at
10.4%. Djokovic has a double-fault percentage of unforced errors at only 7.9%,
Nadal 7.4% and Federer a maestro low of only 6.2%. You see these superstars
place an immense amount of focus on what is in their control and are making
fewer errors than their opponents. 

In investing, a large amount of factors
that have influence over the outcome of your investment is not in your control.
You cannot control how the market will perceive new information. You cannot
control the growth rate of the economy. You cannot control what the outcome
will be of the next monetary policy committee meeting, inflation, retail sales
data, jobless rate or when the enquiry into state capture will ever end.

You cannot control what mood Donald Trump
will wake up in, when Putin will, if ever, step down, what effect Brexit will have,
when a new trade deal will be signed and if anyone really cares about Mexit.

And you certainly can’t control whether
you’ll wake up to a coronavirus outbreak.

However, you can control whether you have
an investment strategy and plan in place. You can control the asset allocation
of your portfolio to make sure it aligns with your objectives while being aptly
diversified. You can also decide if you want to pay higher active fees in the
hope of ‘outperformance’ or lower passive or index tracking fees.

Whatever it might be, determine if it is
within your control, if it is, spend time one it and make sure the
controllables align with your goal. If it is not in your control, let it be,
and if you want to pay attention to ‘it’, regard it as light entertainment,
read: Mexit.

For all the tennis fanatics, please do not
read this as the serve, and, more specifically, the second serve, being the
only aspect of the game you need to focus on. Except if you are Goran
Ivanisevic. The Croatian played in four Wimbledon finals, three of which were
five setters. The first in 1992 and he finally won his only major in 2001
against Patrick Rafter.

Where the tour average for unforced,
double-fault errors is 10.4%, Mr. Ivanisevic boasts a percentage of unforced
errors due to double-faults of no less than 21.9%. However, he compensated by
having an ace percentage of winners of 44.9% versus a tour average of 25.8%.

He has one major title, how many do you
have?

Hannes Viljoen is a Chartered Financial Analyst. Views expressed are his own. 

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