Challenges improve performance…

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Today we saw another great match in the men’s draw, as Andy Murray battled to a hard fought win over Roger Federer, for a place in Sunday’s final against Novak Djokovic.  In the build up there was some discussion as to whether the relative challenges that both men had faced as they advanced through the draw would play a part.

Murray was seen to have had the easier route and had sailed through to the semis without losing a set.  On the other hand Federer was seen has having a challenging draw, Davydenko in the second round, Tomic in the third and Raonic in the fourth.  The first of these an experienced campaigner who has been playing well of late, the other two up and coming young guns keen to make their mark and, in the case of Tomic, a local favourite happy to get into mind games with Federer.  In each case Federer had dispatched them all in straight but competitive sets, coming up against an in-form Tsonga in the quarters who he beat in five sets.

On the other hand, while Murray’s first round against Robin Haase was a potential banana skin, one he overcame straightforwardly, he faced a series of players he was expected to beat.  Even former top ten player Gilles Simon in round four was visibly fatigued, having come through a long five setter in the previous round, and was easily brushed aside.  So when it came down to it Federer was the first big test that Murray faced.

Of the two Murray was clearly the stronger for much of the match but it was interesting that the two tie-breaks Federer won and when Murray stepped up to serve for the match at 6-5 in the fourth Federer was able to raise his game to break. Incidentally, Federer has the highest career tie-break win ratio at .655, though without hard figures I would take a guess that it’s higher in slams.  Federer, at 31 must surely have been impacted to some extent by the five set match in the previous round but was still competitively sharp in the tie breaks and managed to take an in form Murray to five sets.  Agassi had commented before the match that he doubted that the 31 year olds legs would carry him past Murray and so it turned out.

In the women’s draw there is another interesting observation about how challenged some of the competitors have been.  The two women who won most 6-0 sets, Serena Williams (4) and Maria Sharapova (5) both lost before their seeding (and many pundits) suggested – Williams in the quarters (though she did get injured) and Sharapova in the semis.

In looking at Sharapova’s draw it’s interesting to observe that she did not have any significant challenge until the semi-final match she lost to Li Na.  Before losing to Li Na in the semis she beat the following:

R1 Olga Puchkova 6-0 6-0

R2 Misaki Doi 6-0 6-0

R3 Venus Williams 6-1 6-3

R4 Kirsten Flipkens 6-1 6-0

QF Ekaterina Makarova 6-2 6-2

The lack of challenge in previous rounds may well have been a factor, despite losing 6-2 6-2 in her post match interview Sharapova said that she had her fair share of opportunities but when games went to deuce or she had break points she wasn’t able to take them.

We all need to be challenged, or exercised to improve and it is not always pleasant.  There is actually a Biblical principle of being exercised unto Godliness, which involves learning from the Bible how to deal with situations.  It’s also true in the work place that we need to be challenged in what we do to improve.   Growth, or improvement , takes place in incremental steps, we don’t suddenly become a different person.  While for tennis players they can assess their performance by the score, how they hit the ball and move around the court, in order for improvement to take place in other environments we need to get feedback and reflect on our performance in challenging circumstances. We need to determine what our measure is and assess ourselves against it.

It may be seen to be like any other form of exercise, for example using muscle builds it and if it’s not used it wastes.  We need to seek those challenges that stretch us little by little to improve our capability.  However, you can’t leap to world beater from beginner in one go – don’t expect to go on the tennis court any time soon and compete with Andy Murray – unless you’re Novak Djokavic of course!

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