Don’t read too much into the upsets at Queens…


While the form book has been close to being followed in Halle, with a final between Federer and Alexander Zverev (seeds one and four), at Queens we saw a series of early upsets with the top three seeds (Murray, Wawrinka and Raonic) all losing on Tuesday, leaving us with a final between fourth seeded Marin Cilic and the unseeded but highly experienced Feliciano Lopez, the conqueror of Stan Wawrinka last Tuesday.

These are warm up tournaments, they are not always good form guides.  While Murray won Queens last year and went on to win Wimbledon, in 2012, ahead of his first Wimbledon victory he was also knocked out in his first match at Queens.  Coincidentally, the winner in 2012 was Cilic.

Murray and Wawrinka had both had long runs on the clay in Paris, Murray to the semis, where he lost to Stan, who lost in the final to a resurgent Nadal.  So, after a short rest they would have started practicing on grass during the week before Queens.  For the big names this is part of the process of preparing for Wimbledon – working out their games moving to a faster and lower bouncing surface.

Some players need competitive court time others less so.  Federer took time out after winning in Miami in March and returned in Stuttgart the week before Halle – typically he has previously just used Halle as a warm up tournament.  In Stuttgart he started of in fine form against Tommy Haas, dominating the first set but lost in three – however, he continues to roll back the years with his performances in the last week and is the current bookies favourite for Wimbledon.

Each player is different, back in the late seventies, when Borg left Paris for London he spent his days practicing on the grass of a tennis club in London prior to Wimbledon and didn’t play any warm up tournaments – clearly for five years this worked for him. During this time he would work on flattening out his forehand and practicing serve and volley, amongst other things.  Yes, Borg was known to come into the net – something he rarely needed to do on clay.  In contrast, around this time both McEnroe and Connors have used Queens as a warm up tournament.

What works for one player doesn’t always work for another.  The key for the top players is that they are focused on the big tournaments and while the play to win in the smaller events, it is often about using these to get their games in order for the slams.

For those of us who aren’t professional athletes we don’t have the luxury of not worrying about losing while we’re working on our games.  However, we do need to constantly think about how we can improve.  For many of us there are things we work towards, whether it’s a qualification, a big presentation, a project deadline, etc, and we need to work out ways of ironing the kinks out of our performances ahead of these occasions.

Nadal – King of Clay – Experience & timely breaks delivers again!


So, two of the greatest tennis players of all time continue to roll back the years.

Having renewed their rivalry at the start of the year – with Federer winning in five sets, coming from a break down in the fifth in the Australian Open final. Federer went on to win again against Nadal in Indian Wells and Miami.  Federer has since been out of action but returns this week to grass ahead of Wimbledon.

Nadal has come back to dominate on clay, undoubtedly his best surface, on which he holds a 13-2 head to head with Federer.  Winning 10 titles at a single slam is unprecedented. At the age of 31 he dominated every opponent – not since Borg in 1978 has anyone conceded so few games in winning a slam.  Nadal conceded 35 games through the seven rounds, compared to Borg conceding 32 in 1978. Both players are/were masters of the defensive game.

Nadal does a number of things that set him aside.  His preparation, which appears OCD, is meticulous.  It’s seen on the court in the way he arranges his kit, drinks, etc, together with his step pattern from change overs. It starts before the match in visualisation not just of how he might play the math but of the walk to the court.   Spatially Court Philippe Chatrier is larger than any of the other courts – his experience of it is clearly greater than any and in facing a younger opponent like Thiem, in the semis, he had a significant advantage here in his familiarity with the surroundings.  However, where he’s not familiar he has dealt with that in the past by actually doing the walk to the court and spending time on the court before a match to familiarise himself with his surroundings.

For great performers meticulous preparation is critical – a question for all of us as we go about our daily performances at work, is how much do we prepare, particularly for meetings, or key interactions?

Like all top tennis players Nadal is also an expert at managing his own energy and time – legendary (as with Djokovic) for the amount of time he takes between serves. While this led to a warning from the umpire in an earlier round, the routine he goes through is designed to help him stay present – tuning out of the last point and allowing complete focus on the next.

Additionally, both Federer and Nadal have taken chinks of time off in the past year.  Both acknowledge that this has been a key element in their resurgence.  While my work, as a consultant has allowed me to take breaks (some longer than intended), it’s not the norm in a working life.  Our working patterns don’t readily facilitate the effective management of energy – I often see senior managers go from meeting to meeting throughout the day with little preparation, no breaks and hence little or no time to reflect on outcomes.  It’s a pattern of work that is highly ineffective yet persists.  Jim Loehr, in working with senior executives, observed productivity dropping relatively early in the day as a result of this pattern – rarely do those involved even recognise it.  Long days rarely have a positive effect on output!