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?