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.