An astonishing day at Wimbledon…

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Well, I obviously posted a little too early yesterday and missed the biggest upset of them all! Fedex has lost the express bit – after 36 straight grand slam quarter finals or better, he succumbed in the second round.  Clearly, he was not at his best, from the second set on he there seemed to be an air of frustration, despite edging the first set on a tie-break he struggled to gain any rhythm against Stakhovsky, who served and volleyed consistently and, like Dustin Brown and Darcis before him this Wimbledon, kept the points short against a player that is comfortable from the back of the court.

Take nothing away from Stakhovsky, he played exceptionally well, also he got to the net on 60% of points and winning two thirds of those. He came into the match with a clear game plan and  would also have been buouyed by the other wins by underdogs against top players – when Brown upset Hewitt and particularly Darcis beating Nadal, it has an infectious effect.  It also illustrates the depth in men’s tennis currently – after saying that the top four consistently get to the later stages of tournaments, here we have two of the greatest players of all time in Nadal and Federer, losing in the first two rounds at Wimbledon to players ranked outside the top 100.

With all the other exits yesterday, this result topped it all and left many pundits with their jaws on the floor and, perhaps, wondering what next?……

Hewitt takes a Dustin! And they’re dropping like flies…

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A great couple of days with more surprises, one of which was the defeat of 2002 champion Leyton Hewitt by qualifier and 189th ranked Dustin Brown. Dustin, at the age of 28, is demonstrating exceptional talent. Having spent most of career so far in the challengers.

He came through three rounds of qualifying last week, in which he had not lost and was clearly match tight. He gave Hewitt no chance to get any rhythm, looking to end the points quickly.  Maybe he has something of the laid back style of Derrick Rostagno – early in his career he travelled from tournament to tournament in Europe in a camper van funded by his parents.  Not the privileged funding of some of the underachieving British players but also a little of the unconventionality in the way he hit some of his shots.  Hewitt, for all his grit couldn’t come to terms with Brown and the mixed bag that he was dealt.

Yesterday Feliciano Lopez dispatched the talented Frenchman, Gilles Simon.  Lopez has the game for grass with a big serve and a great volley – someone who can benefit during the first week when the balls stay low.

Watch out for Fernando Verdasco, now ranked 54, the former top 10 player overcame Julien Benneteau, no slouch on grass himself (he took two sets off Federer at last years Wimbledon).  Verdasco served magnificently and hit well off the ground and used slice effectively.

Unfortunately, his next match won’t be against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, who retired with a knee injury today, when two sets to one down against Ernests Gulbis.  Another story today has been the surprising number of retirements – dropping like flies it seems – along with Tsonga, Steve Darcis, Nadal’s conqueror, failed to make the second round following a shoulder injury he sustained while playing Nadal, Victoria Azarenka dropped out with an injury following a fall in her first round win, Radek Stepanek retired in the second set of his second round match and John Isner retired after only two games of his match today, while Marin Cilic also failed to make the start of his second round match.

Questions are being asked about the courts, however, one thing that might be the issue of player movement.  A number of players have commented in recent years that tennis has become more homogenized, the grass does not play quite as fast as it used to and on all surfaces, grass, clay, hard, in the slams the same players tend to make the final stages relatively consistently.  What hasn’t changed, however, is the different movement demands of each surface, sliding on clay is relatively consistent throughout a tournament, whereas the grass at Wimbledon tends to have more moisture in it and be slightly softer early on.  Consequently, there is a greater tendency to slide early and a need to get down lower.  So while there is always more of a risk of injury on grass earlier in the tournament it doesn’t explain why there has been such a spate of withdrawals so early this year.

And in a post script in the battle of the grunters – the good folk of SW19 will now know what it’s like to live in the Heathrow flightpath, after today’s match between Maria Sharapova and Michelle Larcher de Brito, two of the tour’s prime grunters.  The result was unexpected – Sharapova slipped during the match and was heard to complain about the state of the court but Larcher de Brito still had to go and win it. Sharapova joins that other glamour girl, Caroline Wozniacki, exiting the tournament. Yes, today they seem to be dropping like flies!

Wimbledon Day 1 – Nadal still a class act – even in defeat…

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Nadal is out – a mix of an inspirational performance from the 135th ranked Belgian, Steve Darcis and clear limitations in Nadal’s mobility.  There were occasions when Rafa pulled up short or didn’t chase balls that in full fitness he would have made.  Darcis rose to the challenge of playing against the man some pundits tipped as a pre-tournament favourite.

Nadal, even in defeat, demonstrated his class as player.  Based on the maxim that if you’re on the court you’re fit enough to play, despite being clearly hampered at times, he made nothing of it, nor did he retire when some would have. When the match had finished he waited for his opponent before leaving the court and still had the courtesy to sine autographs for fans on his way off the court.

So what of the other contenders today? In the men’s draw, following the age old tradition of the defending champion starting proceedings on centre court, it meant that in the men’s draw those who played were in the bottom half of the draw.

Federer strolled against Hanescu – despite doing everything right Hanescu (I think he only missed one first serve in the first set) encountered Federer in sublime form, hitting the ball sweetly to the point of playing exhibition tennis.  I’m not sure that it tells us much other than Federer, at the grand old age of 31, is still a contender, though should he reach a semi final against Murray or Tsonga the dynamics will be significantly different and both have had convincing victories against him this year.

Andy Murray played solidly in brushing past Becker and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga beat the excellent young Belgian, David Goffin, in straight sets.  Despite playing some excellent tennis on grass (Goffin had had a good run at Wimbledon last year) Jo-Wilfred always had a bit too much – he not only plays with power but also has excellent touch for a big man. It could be an interesting quarter-final match up against Murray.

You can only play the hand you’re dealt…

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Earlier in the week we had the Wimbledon seedings announced and today the draw was made.  There has been a lot of noise about seeding Rafael Nadal at number five.  After all Rafa has had a phenomenal year, however, Wimbledon, while they have bucked the trend of the other slams in not sticking to the ATP rankings, they have been consistent in using a formula that combines the rankings with a players grass court form over the past two years.

What’s the fuss about?  Well the seedings keep the number one and two apart until the final and apart from three and four until the semis.  By seeding Rafa at five, he was likely to meet one of the top three (Djokovic, Murray or Federer) in the quarter final.

The complaints about Rafa’s seeding have, in the main, not come from the players but from others.  Now the draw has been made we now know what the implications are – if Rafa is to win Wimbledon and results go according to the seedings he will have to beat in turn Federer, Murray and Djokovic.  Obviously that also means that Federer has a similarly formidable task in needing to beat Nadal, Murray and Djokovic.  I’ve not heard a complaint from either and, prior to the draw being made, Murray had said in an interview that he would be happy with having to play a quarter final against Rafa.

The top players know they are going to have to beat others at the top to win the tournament and that’s the challenge that has made them the competitors that they are.  It’s worth noting, for all of us, that we can’t always choose the things that happen to us but we can choose how we react to them!

Why Serving Is Like Chairing A Meeting…

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Seems a strange analogy but to the technical stuff first.

It may seem obvious but why is it that serve dominates in professional tennis? Players serve and in most professional matches, particularly when the players are evenly matched serve is held more times than it is broken. This holds true for slower surfaces like clay, as well as traditionally faster surfaces like grass.  Based in recent stats the average rate of holding serve on the ATP Tour is 81.2%.

So why is that the case?  Essentially, when serving it is the one time that you can control what you do without having to react to what’s coming at you.  It’s the time when you can set up the point.

Let’s look at some of the tactics of players in recent history when serving?

When Federer serves, his go to first serve from the deuce court (the right) is a slice out wide.  If it’s not an ace, most of the time it puts the opponent under pressure and opens up the court.  From this point he can then move his opponent around and it takes exceptional defence to wrest the advantage away.  In a similar vein Nadal, as a left hander, will serve out wide from the ad court, particularly against Federer, where his backhand is not as strong but, more importantly, as with Federer, it sets up the point, allowing him to remain in control.

Stefan Edberg, one of the great serve and volley players, when serving from the deuce court would often hit a kick serve down the middle, when playing a right-hander.  With Edberg he would constantly serve and volley, whether on grass, clay or hard courts.  By hitting a high kicking serve down the middle he was playing a ball that the receiver would often have to hit at shoulder height.  At this height it is very difficult to keep the ball low and Edberg would be counting on a relatively easy first volley to end the point.

So what of the meeting analogy?

Well, when chairing a meeting it provides an opportunity to set up the meeting on the basis of what you want to achieve. You can do this with a number of things:

  • the agenda – based on what decisions and/or outcomes you want, what process do you need to go through to achieve this
  • the participants – who do you need at the meeting to enable this to happen
  • think about each participant and what their state of mind is about what you want to achieve – does it need changing and how?
  • preparation – all this points to rigorous preparation for meetings, in that way you’ll achieve more with less.

Nadal Record Roland Garros Win Was Well Planned

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We saw one of the culmination of one of the remarkable comebacks in sport on Sunday.  Rafael Nadal lost in the second round of Wimbledon last year and didn’t play competitively again until February this year.  Winning on Sunday was his 12th grand slam trophy and his eighth at Roland Garros, a record at one tournament.

It is difficult to determine who is the greatest, given that the comparison is of players of different eras.  Though among the top players currently, as a result of their achievements, both Federer and Nadal are undoubtedly among the greatest players of all time.

Nadal has picked his come back route deliberately with a focus on this fortnight.  He has only lost once on the clay of Roland Garros, since his debut win in 2005 and ensuring he performed well there would have been one of his key goals for 2013 when he planned his return.  Every tournament he has played, bar Indian Wells (Hard) has been on clay.  Amazingly he won on the hard courts of Indian Wells, beating Federer, Berdych and Del Potro en route. His thinking forward and planning is a lesson for all of us, in determining goals and working out what is the best preparation and route to get there.

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised how Nadal has achieved this.  He is a meticulous planner and also probably the most effective player at managing both his own and his opponents tempo through a match.  It starts from before he arrives on court but is visible from the fussy placing of his bottles on court to the very particular routine he goes through before he serves, all designed to allow him to stay present and focused.  However, he also uses the 25 second time allowance between points to the full, or more!  However, the way he manages this time can also impact the other player.  It was interesting in his semi final against Novak Djokovic that during the third set Djokovic seemed out of it and said afterwards that he felt drained of energy for a time.  It’s not unusual when your natural rhythm is disrupted and Nadal is the expert at disrupting his opponents.

This is something that we can learn from, particularly when running meetings.  How often do meetings we’re involved in drift and the tempo drops – ensuring they are focused and the tempo is managed is one of the keys to keeping people engaged.

Start Fast … Have a Plan

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Nadal does it, Djokovic does it, Federer (on his day) does it better than anyone.  So what is it? Well, the ability to get off to a quick start.  We saw it today with Nadal against Wawrinka and Djokovic against Haas.  Both should have been more competitive, after all Stan had played phenomenal tennis in coming back against Gasquet in the previous round.  However, given he had a 0-9 head to head record against Nadal (now 0-10), I suspect he was always going to struggle mentally to generate enough confidence to compete.

In whatever area, both in sport and business, don’t be like the club hacker and pitch up at the court, hit a few ground strokes, a few volleys, overheads and serves then, without a plan, try and work out how you’re going to win. Be more like the top players, they have already warmed up before they go on court, both having a hit earlier in the day and preparing mentally for the opponent they are about to meet.  The very best, like Nadal, prepare rigorously, planning how they’re going to win before they even step on court.

In “Winning Ugly”, Brad Gilbert covers this subject in the first chapter, ‘The Early Edge’, describing the time when he first emerged on to the tour and he was just doing exactly that, pitching up without a plan, until he learned. “it became obvious to me that for the best players in the world their match had begun a long time before the first serve.  They came ready to play and wanted to grab me by the throat as soon as they could.”  I’m not suggesting that Stan was like the club hacker, far from it – with his coach, Magnus Norman, they would have worked out a strategy for today’s encounter with Nadal.  However, Nadal is better at preparing and then adapting when things don’t go his way.  In this case he put so much pressure on Wawrinka in playing, as he put it in his post match interview, ‘his best match of the tournament so far’.

So be prepared  like Nadal and get off to a fast start.  If it’s in a work context, make sure you know what you want from your day, or meeting and how you need to go about achieving it.

Gone for a Tsonga!

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Well it’s going to be some semi-final.  Tsonga, or Jo-Willy, blitzed the former Fedex in three sets that were not even close.  While against Simon, Fed was able to raise his game, here Jo-Wilfred just kept on hammering away, breaking Fed twice in set three.

While Federer has a record of over the last 36 grand slams reaching the quarter-finals or better, only five of those occasions has he failed to get past the quarters.  On two of those occasions he has now been beaten by Tsonga, the others twice by Berdych and once by Soderling.  All are big hitting, high risk players.  If their game comes off with few unforced errors they are extremely hard to beat by anyone but Federer seems to have had more problems with them than the other members of the top four in the last three years. Indeed all three sets felt a little like the last three in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2011, when Federer was beaten by Tsonga having been two sets up. Three sets in which, it seemed, Tsonga could do no wrong and Federer could not find an answer.  Today there was no lifting of the Federer game in the way he managed in the last round.

So Tsonga goes on to meet David Ferrer, who is quietly cruising through the draw.  Today he met his countryman, Tommy Robredo and dispatched him with ease, 6-2 6-1 6-1.  Ferrer realises that he’s also going to have the crowd against him – “I think it’s quite normal [that] the crowd is going to be supporting Jo,” said Ferrer. “He’s French and I am very happy he’s made it that far. I’ll do everything I can to make it to the final. I have to remain focused.”

Of course Jo-Wilfred is so amazingly popular and continually seems to play with a smile on his face, that even someone as popular as Federer will have the crowd against him.  While watching Jo play Djokovic last year one of my kids mused that he was so popular that even Novak’s coach was cheering him on!

And so to the women – Serena advanced but with a hiccup, losing the second set to the experienced Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Kuznetsova was rolled over in the first set and using her experience she took a time-out – a visit to the bathroom.  Unusual so early in a match but it worked, quickly rolling off the next four games and winning the second 6-3.  What had threatened to be over quickly turned in to a classic, with two experienced campaigners raising their games and Serena running out the eventual winner, 6-3 in the third.

In the other ladies quarter-final played today, the pocket sized and purposeful Sara Errani, came through 6-4 7-6.  At 3-1 down in the second it looked like Errani might be taken the distance but she battled back and took the match on the tie-break to set up another ‘little and large’ battle in the semis against Serena.

Meeting the challenge – again and again!

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Well experience delivers once again –Tommy Haas reached the quarter final at Roland Garros for the first time, in decisive manner against Mikhail Youzhny, at the tender age of 35!

Once seen as a boy wonder and future world number one (he got to number 2 in the world in 2002), a year ago Tommy was outside the top 100, yet here he is, at the tail end of his career, with his best ever performance at the French Open and ranked just outside the top 10.

Today he played extremely well.  Having his serve broken in the first set, he then reeled off six straight games to win the first set 6-1.  With Haas playing well, rather than respond by lifting his game, Youzhny did what so many of us do, in that reeling he looked out of sorts, got angry and making mistake after mistake, going on to drop the second set 6-1.  In the final set Youzhny found some sort of form, making it more competitive but continued to lack belief and Haas ran out the winner in a straightforward 6-1 6-1 6-3 to set up a quarter-final with Djokovic.

Djokovic himself did not looking too convincing, having come through his first three rounds straightforwardly, he dropped the first set in his fourth round match against Kohlschreiber, before running out the winner in four sets.

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Another outstanding match…

On the other hand, Nadal will be relatively pleased, after beating Kei Nishikori in straight sets, he sat back to watch his next opponent, Stan Wawrinka, battle through a five set match of the highest quality.

Richard Gasquet has now lost five grand slam matches having been two sets up but this was no capitulation in the manner of his loss to Murray at Wimbledon five years ago. These two players, ranked nine and ten in the world, gave it their all, with Gasquet winning the first set tie break, having looked second best throughout the set, he then looked more convincing in the second, winning it 6-4.  It was in the third, when Stan got angry after a dispute with the umpire over line calling, that he seemed to use to motivate him, winning the set 6-4 and getting the late break in the fourth to level and take the match into the final set.

Both players continued to go for their shot and managed to hit winners from the back of the court.  Despite the momentum moving firmly in Stan’s direction and Gasquet looking visibly tired by the end of the fourth set (requiring a medical tie out) it wasn’t until the fourteenth game of the final set that match Gasquet faltered and Wawrinka won it with a forehand down the line.

Gasquet will undoubtedly feel gutted but both men played their part in an outstanding match.  Can Stan recover sufficiently to threaten Rafa in a couple of days?

The Tougher the Challenge the Better the Performance Needs to Be

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Well what an amazing match!  Federer started in sublime fashion, moving Simon about and almost running away with the first set 6-1.  Simon has regularly given Federer problems in the past and, in the next two sets we saw why, as Simon pressed and almost everything he went for worked, winning the next two sets 6-4 6-2.

So how do you feel when you’re up against someone at the top of their game?  For Federer, his reaction was what you might expect of someone who has been at the top of the men’s game for the last decade – he lifted his game and in a set of outstanding tennis he leveled the match with a 6-2 set.

For Simon this was something of a body blow, he did little wrong and when he got to Federer’s drop shots Fed was there to put the next ball away. One of the things Federer does consistently is follow the drop shot into the net, despite it being taught and the obvious tactic, it surprises me how many of the top players stay back after playing a drop shot.

At one point in answer to a short Federer ground stroke Simon drove his forehand cross court, for what would in most cases have been a winner, only to see Federer take the ball off the bounce and pass a disconsolate Gilles down the line.

By the final set it seemed that Federer was almost into exhibition mode, playing a drop shot, following it in and then volleying a lob over the incoming Simon.  In the end Federer ran out a 6-3 winner in the fifth and extended his record of reaching the quarter-finals or better of the last 36 grand slams.