Back to the Drawing Board

At the recent US Open, following his defeat to Thomas Berdych in the quarter finals, Federer commented that it was “back to the drawing board”.

For whatever reason, Federer’s first exit prior to the semis at the US Open since 2003 was to a big hitter – someone who out hit him with the sheer power of his ground strokes.  As an interesting aside his previous quarter final exits in the slams have all been to players who would be classed as big-hitters, Berdych, now twice, Soderling and Tsonga.

What is more instructive to us all, particularly those who are later in our careers, is this “back to the drawing board” comment.  All top players plan rigorously (as mentioned before) and all continuously seek to improve.  However, this is Roger Federer, the current number one player in the world, winner of 17 grand slams, the player who has spent most weeks as number one ever, arguably the greatest player of all time.  At the age of 31, in what many see as the twilight of a stellar career, he is still looking for ways to overcome the latest threat!  He has done this before, with the advance of Nadal and Djokovic he changed his game, finding ways to play more aggressively and get back to number one and, when many think he’s close to hanging up his rackets, he’s looking to adapt again.

This is the equivalent of a top executive, advancing rapidly towards retirement, in the twilight of his or her career still looking for ways to improve.  It’s a question for everyone, given that we are all human and far from perfect – what are we still doing to improve?

Tennis, in common with other competitive sports, is harsh in providing feedback through results.  If we are truly wanting to learn and looking to improve, what’s our view of our own performance and where’s the feedback coming from?

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Work Hard & Focus on the Vision…Murray Wins His First Slam

So Andy Murray’s finally there!

Back in January Andy took Novak Djokovic to the edge in the Australian Open semi final but, for whatever, reason he came up marginally short. In this case the difference between success and not was marginal.  He’d also made a promising start in his fourth slam final at Wimbledon before being edged out by a sublime and resurgent Roger Federer.  Now Andy has finally won the US Open, his first grand slam, it’s interesting to reflect on what might have made the difference and what he and others have said.

It has regularly been said that Andy’s is up there with the other “big three”, more frequently referred to as the big four in the UK, though without a slam win, prior to this win, it was difficult to bracket Andy with Federer (17), Nadal (11) and Djokovic (5). His record in other tournaments and performance levels surely merited it but these guys live and work to peak for the slams.

After each major loss Murray has regularly stated that he needed to “work harder”.  The margins between winning and losing at this level are small and, while all these players work incredibly hard, it’s more about focusing on the vision of what it takes to win and the small things that make a difference.  One thing that Andy has done is bring on board Ivan Lendl to his team.  He has a team to cover a range of aspects of his performance, though this is the first time he has brought someone on board that has actually had the experience of winning a slam.  Ironically, he also lost his first four slam finals before going on to win eight grand slams, though at the point he joined Team Murray, Andy had lost just three finals.

One observation has been that Andy often gets angry with himself in matches with things are out of his control.  A number of times when he has had break points and his opponent has hit an ace or a winner he has berated himself.  This is a waste of energy, the other top players recognise that it is beyond their control and move on. It’s something that Lendl has been working on with Andy and, while it still happens, it is occurring less and less as he recognises that those things that are beyond his control are not worth getting wound up about.

While he has continued to work hard focusing on those little things that make a difference enabled him to stay in the present and lift his performance again when Djokovic had levelled the match, with the momentum very much in his favour, he will continue to work hard and look for more success.

“You want to try to win those big matches and big tournaments and I’ll keep working hard,” said Murray.

“I want to keep improving,” said Murray. “I know how it feels to win a Grand Slam and winning the Olympics.”

It’s that desire to continue improving and not settle for a particular level of achievement that makes top players continue to achieve.