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!