Inspiration can only get you so far…

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In the case of Gael Monfils as far as to round three…

After a rousing victory over Thomas Berdych, where, having won the first two sets, Berdych pulled back to level the match but using the crowd to lift him, Monfils found the inspiration to break Berdych and win in the fifth.  Two days later, Monfils dropped the first set against Gulbis but went on to win in four.

Today, the delightfully entertaining Monfils came up against Tommy Robredo, an experienced and talented Spanish player, who, like Monfils, has also had his day in the top ten and is at home on the clay.  Again Monfils was inspired in winning the first two sets but, tiring, he dropped the next two.  This time there was no reprieve for the clearly drained Monfils.  Despite having match points and serving for the match at 5-4 in the fourth, the tenacious Robredo broke serve and leveled the match.

Despite a return to form for Monfils in the run up to Roland Garros, winning  a challenger and being runner up in Nice, spending most of the last year out with injury is no preparation for a series of best of five sets and Monfils eventually ran out of steam, dropping the fifth 6-2.

 “I have to give him credit because I think I wasn’t shy,” said Monfils. “I went for my shots. I missed maybe some, but some he played good points. It was very close. And when you lose a match, you’re not happy. But you can always find something positive in the match.

“Maybe today he was physically fitter than me. It is frustrating, because I don’t like to lose matches for physical or fitness reasons. But today I have to admit he was stronger.”

The 31 year old Robredo is no spring chicken himself and has been on something of a comeback march, rising from 114 at the start of the year to 34 currently.  However, an advantage he clearly had over Monfils was fitness, or endurance.  While Monfils was visibly struggling during the final set, Robredo was able to take advantage.  The physically better prepared Robredo held firm.

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Are banks like the club hacker when they should be more like Federer?

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French Open day four and another sublime performance from Federer, dispatching Somdev Devverman for the loss of just four games.  Federer was in no mood to hang about, breaking Devvernan in the first game, though Federer, in going for his shots was also making unforced errors.  With many of his points coming from Federer’s mistakes, it is tempting to liken the Indian to the professional game’s equivalent of the club hacker, though probably unfair.

For those who play tennis, facing the club hacker can be something of a nightmare.  He or she is the one who runs everything down, aiming just to get the ball back into play – they seem to make few mistakes, mainly because they don’t take risks, frustrating many a seemingly better player into making mistakes.

The COO of a major investment bank a few years ago likened many of his directors to club hackers – in the cultural environment they were in they were frightened of making mistakes and therefore of taking risks.  Of course the environment has got progressively worse, with increased regulatory pressure and continual rounds of cost cutting, the fear of raising one’s head above the parapet is common in many large firms.  Unfortunately banking is about taking risks but not only are many frightened of any risk, accompanying this is an increased unwillingness to take ownership for results or deliverables.

Such environments do not foster growth, in contrast Federer, particularly among the top players, gets the results, accompanied by more errors than the other members of the top four, because he takes risks.

Roland Garros – the first three days

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Well, we’ve had three days of Roland Garros, with some great clay court tennis, the odd upset or two and my Tennis for Free dream team isn’t doing too well.

A history of achievement builds confidence and the reverse can also be true – two impressive performances from players ranked just outside the top 50, one playing the greatest clay court player in history, in Rafael Nadal, the other taking on the world number one, Djokovic.  In yesterday’s match, Daniel Brands, a German ranked 59, played sensational tennis to win the first set against Nadal, and was up 3-0 in the second set tie-break, before Nadal finally ran out the winner in four sets.

Djokovic was also pushed by the Belgian, David Goffin, taken to a tie-break in the first set.  With Goffin playing exceptionally well, Novak managed to win the critical points and ran out a winner in three relatively tight sets. When faced with a lower ranked opponent playing out of their skin, particularly as happened with Brnads against Nadal, going for big forehands at every opportunity, the top players don’t panic.  Occasionally, it the lower ranked player causes a major upset, as happened for Nadal against Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon last year.  However, more frequently, the experience and ‘having been there’ many times before pays off.  Federer said earlier this year that over his career of over a dozen years in professional tennis he had faced most situations possible on a tennis court so never panicked and focused on working out a strategy to overcome the challenge in front of them.

While it may be nice to have a quick win and get back in the locker room, the top players thrive on the challenges that opponents provide them.  Witness Tommy Haas, still playing amazing tennis at 35, loving being out there, whether he’s playing another experienced pro or using his experience to counter an up and coming ‘young gun’.

On the other hand, players like Goffin and Brands may find it easy to motivate themselves against one of the world’s famed top four opponents but they also have to learn to play at that level and win consistently.  Without that building that consistency, when facing the top players doubt is always not far away, particularly in tight situations.

There seemed to be no such doubt in the performance from Gael Monfils, in overcoming Berdych yesterday.  Monfils, having been out with injury for most of the last year and a ranking down at 81, was one of the most dangerous floaters in the draw.  Unlike Brands and Goffin, Monfils has proved himself against the top players, with a career high ranking of seven.  He took the first two sets against Berdych, playing some amazing tennis.  Berdych, being the competitor he is fought back to take the next two sets, both on tie-breaks.  A lesser player may have been dispirited but Monfils used a partisan French crowd to lift him towards the end of a tight final set, winning 7-5.  Monfils did not lack doubt and it was a memorable battle between two big hitting players, even if Monfils has a worse sense of colour co-ordination than I do.