In the UK this week the tennis headlines focus on Andy Murray’s comeback following hip surgery, winning the Queen’s doubles title on his return at the age of 32. Perhaps more remarkable is that his partner, Feliciano Lopez, had just won the singles at the age of 37 and in the course played the last five consecutive matches of the tournament – two singles and three doubles matches – something I’m not sure has ever been done before! On the same day Roger Federer, also at the grand old age of 37, won his tenth title on the grass courts of Halle, in Germany. Experience continues to deliver!
However, I was also impressed last week (and have been through the year) by the emergence of some of the young talent in mens tennis. Lopez won a tight match in the semi-final against the young Canadian, Felix Auger-Aliassime, only 18 years old and ranked 21 in the world. Auger-Aliassime had previously won his quarter-final match against the 20 year-old Stefano Tsitsipas, ranked six in the world.
Both these players have shown exceptional maturity this year as they’ve risen up the rankings, particularly in how they’ve handled themselves on court throughout the year. Auger Aliassime has had an interesting week – beating Dimitrov, Kyrgios, where he faced the distraction of Kyrgios’s outburst, then Tsitsipas, before losing in three sets to Lopez.
We often talk about distinguishing what you can and cannot control and focusing on what you can control. For tennis players managing your mental state in the time between points is critical to maintaining focus and peak mental performance. Similarly, in a work or personal context we often say that you can’t always choose what happens to you but you can choose how you react. It’s not always easy – how often do we, whether in business, sport or personal contexts react irrationally? However, to perform at our optimum we need to stay present and focus on the task in hand.
For tennis players, this is now a skill that is taught and has been for 30 years but witness the behaviour of some players and we know that it isn’t always easy to put into practice. Auger-Aliassime maintained his composure throughout the tournament, he looks and acts like he belongs amongst the top players and I can only remember one point in the match that he lost against Lopez at Queens where he was close to losing his composure impressive for a young professional. He continues to develop and such talent ans maturity on court will surely see him reap the rewards as he progresses.
To maintain such composure under pressure and, in his case, continual public scrutiny, requires practice – in tennis this is often aided by the use of rituals – playing with racket strings, fist pumping, bouncing the ball, breathing. We can also identify routines or rituals to help us stay present but, once discovered, they require practice to develop a high performance mindset.