We saw another outstanding performance in the Australian Open last weekend, as Novak Djokovic beat Andy Murray in four sets. Djokovic is undoubtedly a prodigious talent – In January 2008, aged 20, on reaching the semi final of the Australian Open he became the youngest player to have reached the semi finals of all four grand slams.
Although talented, the contrast between his performances in grand slams up to 2010 and from late 2010 on is revealing. While he went on to win his first grand slam title, beating the unseeded Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in four sets, he had the fortune to play a clearly fatigued Roger Federer in the semi final, suffering the after effects of glandular fever. This was the first time he had beaten one of the big two (Federer and Nadal) in a slam. In fact it wasn’t until late 2010 , in the semi finals of the US Open that he managed to do it again.
In fact from the semi finals of the US Open in 2007 until 2010 he rarely competed against Federer and Nadal in the slams, rarely winning a set and on occasions retiring. It was a common theme in post match press conferences that there was something else to blame – an injury, health,etc.
So what happened that led to the change that we’ve seen since he beat Federer from two match points in the US Open semi final in 2010. He did the same again in 2011. Since then in 2011 he won the Australian, Wimbledon and the US Open and had the second longest winning streak in open history. In 2012 he won the Australian again, beating Nadal in one of the all time classic finals, got to the final of the French (beating Federer in the semis), the final of the US (losing to Murray in five sets) and won the end of year Masters, again beating Federer.
Nadal was still a force in 2011 and 2012, winning the French Open in both years. Federer, despite reaching 30 in 2011, continued to play well, winning Wimbledon and regaining the number one ranking for a period in 2012, if anything some aspects of his game have improved in the last two years. So Djokovic was not playing lesser opponents.
So what of the changes? Djokovic changed to a gluten free diet in 2010, he has clearly worked on his fitness and his movement has undoubtedly improved. However, the one change that is little talked about is that the excuses about fitness or injury after losses have ceased. Djokovic has taken ownership for his performances, win or lose. This has enabled him to deal with matches like last Sunday’s final – while Djokovic played slightly better in the first set, Murray edged it in the tie break. In the second set Murray was in the ascendancy, yet Djokovic was able to edge it and then upped his game to edge ahead in the third and come out an easier winner in the fourth.
Without taking ownership, when we are not at our best, taking ownership of the mistakes we make, it is impossible to improve effectively. In so many aspects of life and work it is easy to blame other factors for mistakes we make. Taking ownership and acknowledging when we’re not at our best or when we make a mistake will help to improve performance.