I may be thought of as talking my own book here, as someone with mostly gray hair on my head! However, it was interesting to hear Federer following his win over Davydenko in the week and prior to his third round match with Bernard Tomic.
When asked to comment on his upcoming match with Tomic he provided some interesting insights as to why, even in the world of professional sport an age old veteran in the twilight of his career still delivers both in performance and result.
While he said that younger players can improve quickly and he indeed he expected him to be more of a challenge than his meeting with him last year, he stated that he had so much more experience than Tomic. His experience going back over a dozen years playing at the top level and having completed over 1000 tour matches meant that he had faced just about every circumstance on court, including the intensity of a night session at a slam and the pressure of a five set match. No variation in length of rally or match would be new to him, he’d been there.
He was acutely aware of the things he could do now against an opponent that he couldn’t do previously. When thought of as potentially physically weaker a few years ago than the emerging Nadal he had worked on this so that he built an aura of getting stronger through matches. Despite at 31 being considered at or near the end of his career, he said “I would hope I’m a better player today”. Indeed during the Tomic match commentary on Eurosport, Mats Wilander offered the opinion that Federer’s half volley backhand was definitely one stroke that had improved.
So back to talking my own book in a business context, as someone of mature years, in leading major change programmes my observations are that experience delivers. Though to clarify, it is a certain type of experience and character – certainly those who’ve seen a range of situations over the years but also continue to learn and innovate to become more effective, to use that experience to meet the challenges that come along, as well as to challenge oneself. The desire to continue to improve at whatever stage of career is a common characteristic of great performers.
The specificity of preparation that I raised in the last post has already been brought home in the first few days of the Australian Open. Not only is the duration of matches (best of five rather than three for men) and the duration of the tournament (two rather than one week) different to the regular tour but, of course, conditions for each of the slams vary.
This is true both in terms of court surface and weather conditions – the Australian Open is the only slam where temperatures regularly get into the high 30’s (centigrade) and occasionally into the 40s. This may happen occasionally at the US Open but not as high and as often. Even playing late in the evening the long three set second round match between eighth seed Petra Kvitova and Laura Robson of the UK was particularly grueling. Although British, Robson, born in Melbourne, in the second and third sets seemed in better condition both physically and mentally than Kvitova (the more experienced and higher ranked of the two). Like court surface, weather conditions are the same for both players and, while they can’t be controlled they can be prepared for.
It was also interesting to hear Federer’s post match press conference having won his second round match in straightforward fashion against Davydenko. He talked about how the game had changed over the many years he’d been playing at the top. How in fact the pace of the ball has got slower with the capability to create more angles and how he has had to adapt his game to remain at the top.
Often less experienced players let external factors, those they can’t control, get the better of them and get down because of it. Simply, it affects their performance more than it should. This can impact more experienced players, as the blue clay courts in Madrid seemed to bother both Nadal and Djokovic. The conditions are the same for both players, those factors that you can’t control have to be accepted and play adapted accordingly, whether it’s the court surface, the weather, the crowd, etc.
Blaming external factors is not helpful, having the right mind set for events out of one’s control is an important element in dealing with them and performing as well as possible in the circumstances. While we can not control all the factors that might impact our performance we can choose how we react to them, whether in sport or in business.
Over the last couple of posts we’ve talked about planning, goals and alignment. We’ve now had the first two days of the Australian Open and in the men’s five seeded players lost, though none of the top 10. In the top 10 all bar 10th seed Almagro won in straight sets and, other than Tipsarevich (who played three tight sets against Leyton Hewitt), with ease. The ease of win of the top players is not indicative of the lack of depth in men’s tennis – Almagro took five sets to beat the 175th ranked Steve Johnson – more their focus on the first key goal of the season.
However, as pointed out last time the top players have teams that are focused on preparing their players for these events and clearly the best are ready from the off. Since Nadal won the first of his 11 slams in 2005, only he Federer and Djokovic have won more than one, with del Potro and Murray each winning one and rarely have any of them lost early. This speaks volumes for the degree of focus and their preparation. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the tournament pans out. However, with Nadal out, clearly Djokovic, Federer and Murray (having won the last slam) are seen as the favourites, though del Potro, Berdych Ferrer and Tsonga will also consider they have a chance.
So, everyone is saying it – Andy Murray took Djokovic to the edge. There will be a few things he will learn from Lendl and, as Ivan says, he’s still trying to get better. And Rafa says he can be number 1 – but won’t be if any of the other three muskateers have their way! Clearly, this is an amazing period in men’s tennis – Murray’s up therewith the other three – in terms of performance if not slams.
Fed might be nearing hanging up his racket but when he turns it on no there is still no one with the same sublime ability. The problem he has is being able to perform at the level to beat the other three over a best of five match. Given the performance of the others and that he’s now in his 31st year his slam total is unlikely to get any higher.
Rafa and Novak may torture their bodies but the difference between them and Andy at the moment is that they sense the key moments and prioritise. we saw it with Rafa at the end of last year – he may not yet have a tour finals title to his name but the Davis cup final was more important – plus despite having Fed’s number now on any surface outdoors, he’s not yet beaten him in a competitive match indoors.
The good thing for Andy is that Lendl took time to win his first slam, he got to French Open final in 81 where he lost to Borg, aged just 21, he was runner up three more times over the next three years before finally winning the French in 84, coming from two sets down against McEnroe. Sound familiar?
Well, an accomplished performance from Azarenka, with no middle set wobble this time. She kept focused and concentrated on getting the ball deep and taking time from Sharapova. Given it was her first grand slam and the no 1 ranking was at stake she showed phenomenal mental strength, focusing on the performance all the way through, not even a wobble as she closed it out!