I missed a major lesson in life last Sunday; a heavy lunch left me drowsy and I napped for a while. By the time I woke up I realized I was missing the Wimbledon final; I shrugged and wrote it off “It’s gonna be a walk-over, no way can Andy Roddick even come close to Federer.”
Six hours later they were still playing and I missed one of the greatest sporting match-ups in history. I have been a fan of tennis for most of my life since the heady days of Boris Becker and his acrobatics in 1985; then came the likes of Ivan Lendl, Edberg, Agassi, Lendl, and one man who dominated.
Pete Sampras was the only player of his generation who could match-up to the legends of Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Bjorn Borg. Champions have one thing that separates them from the pack; they often play players of better ability and win simply because of a mental edge.
I used to watch Borg the “ice-man” on old cassettes and see a vacant stare in his eyes; like his mind was in another place, he swayed like a lion on a prowl while John McEnroe was agitated. Sport is about a mental edge in competition; the top dog always is the one with a mental advantage.
So for every Federer there is an Andy Roddick; a player with immense ability but seemingly born in the wrong era with two dominant players in Nadal and Federer. In the past his weaknesses were obvious for top players to exploit; he relied too much on his serve, his big weapon the forehand always put him out of position for the backhand, his backhand is terrible, and he doesn’t attack the net.
All that was forgotten on Sunday as he produced the game of his life; but it still wasn’t good enough. Roger Federer has the most beautiful game I have ever seen; perfect technique, equal balance on forehand and backhand, he reads the game perfectly, he can innovate when necessary and he has finally proved his mental toughness.
His nemesis Nadal is waiting in the wings to reclaim his top spot but history will honour Federer as the greatest. Nadal is a brutal machine; an unrelenting terminator that cannot be ground down but Federer is as graceful as a gazelle on a savannah.
Tennis has always gone through eras where power vs. finesse battle for supremacy; although Nadal has tremendous finesse his power is what gives him the edge but Federer is pure finesse.
Federer comes from a stable background and likes to keep it that way; he was born to a Swiss father and a South African mother who coached their son in both tennis and life.
That is a recurring theme among champions; a strong family bond, look at: Tiger woods, Lewis Hamilton, the Williams’ sisters, Michael Schumacher as well as Federer. Other common ingredients of success are hard work, dedication, preparation both mental and physical and above all self-belief.
Federer says that he can never even visualize or picture defeat; it doesn’t exist in his vocabulary and he always remains calm. When he was emerging as a player people all knew how talented he was but his temper let him down; he then decided to be in control of all of his emotions and that is when he became a great player.
In life talent is only a minor part of success; the mental edge is what separates the good from the great, for what is a talent if you don’t nurture it. If have never played squash but I might have a talent in it, so it is maybe a dormant seed.
This Sunday if you have kids and you have nothing to do then take them out and try to discover what talent they have, they might surprise you but don’t think about the millions you could have like Frank Williams or Robert Federer, just have a good time.
Scientists have managed to prove that if you spend 500 concentrated hours on any given activity then you have mastered it; be it tennis, chess, software design but the greats do 5,000 hours of pure concentration. That’s the mental edge.