The first Monday of Wimbledon and there were some interesting upsets. Some members of the younger generation in men’s tennis have been making significant strides over the last year. Alexander (Sacha) Zverev won the end of season ATP tour title last November and is currently ranked five in the world at the age of 22 (he has been as high as 3). Stefano Tsitsipas, at the age of 20 has risen to six in the rankings with some excellent wins.
Both were expected by most to win their first round matches, however both went out, Zverev in four sets to Jiri Vesely and Tsitsipas in a fifth set decider to the 30 year old Thomas Fabbiano.
In his post match press conference Tsitsipas seemed weighed down by the expectations on him, upset that he had let down those around him.
Zverev was quoted as saying ‘my confidence is below zero’. John McEnroe, commented later that Zverev has a habit of quickly developing negative thoughts that clearly impact his performance.
On the same day in the women’s event, world number two, 21 year old Naomi Osaka lost to the lower ranked Yulia Putintseva. Osaka is a two time grand slam champion and may have been expected to win, though she had played Putintseva twice previously, losing on both occasions, the latest being on grass in Birmingham just prior to Wimbledon. In her post match press conference she was visibly upset when asked whether the weight of expectations had got to her and left the interview room.
It seems that a combination of doubt or lack of confidence and the weight of expectations has got to these young, talented players. It often leads to what is referred to as imposter syndrome – not uncommon in the workplace. While the successful experienced players on the tour learn to deal with it over time, for young players having early success it can still play on their minds – a rapid rise through the rankings and questions like ‘what am I doing here?’. The problem for the individual athlete, unlike in the workplace of course, is that there is nowhere to hide. Performance becomes affected and it is evident in results.
It may seem strange that highly successful young athletes (all between 20 and 22 years old) should face such self doubt but it is amazing how a little uncertainty and self doubt can affect performance for all of us.
So, when you face it find someone who you can talk about it with. Learn to be realistic about performance, we all make mistakes, yet it is easy to magnify these, particularly when doubt sets in. Finally, challenge negative thoughts – you can also turn these around. Tiger Woods reputedly after hitting a poor shot would tell himself that this would give him the opportunity to show how good he was in getting out of it.