Roger Federer, one of the greatest, or perhaps the greatest male tennis player to have ever lived achieved the status of immortality when he won his 17th grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2012.
(Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in 2012)
Here are 3 qualities, according to Federer himself, that are pivotal in reaching heights that no male tennis player has in terms of Grand Slam winner trophies. The first one relates to advice from his former coach Stefan Edberg who told Federer that he wants him to play more matches consistently, adding that it is fine to take long breaks at a young age, but not when one is getting older. Edberg added that Federer should play out all points to the fullest even, when he is far away from a tournament. While Federer admitted that he felt this was counter intuitive when he first heard this, he was willing to give this a try, and it worked for him, helping him to win more grand slams.
In my opinion, according to my short lived tennis career (until age 23), I can see this making sense as when I entered my 20s, muscle memory was not as effective as when I was younger. I hear similar stories from dancers, who say the older a dancer gets, the more important it is to stay ‘on season’ all year round as muscle memory is not quite what it used to be when one is younger. The reason why muscle memory is not as effective as you get older, is, in my view, to do with the fact that you simply have more on your mind in your twenties onwards as opposed to when you are a teenager, when most of us have 2 or maximum 3 priorities.
This brings me to my second point, which is Federer wants to finish matches quickly (not only by playing the least number of sets and points, but also to finish the match in the least possible time) and with the shortest rallies. Both these ensure that he has expended the least amount of energy which means he has plenty of energy in the ‘bank’, subsequently he maximises his chance to win that particular tournament. In essence, Federer maximises ROI for a match, in this case his investment is his energy. For this, I would guess Federer would make a great entrepreneur!
Back in 1992, when I was a student at the prestigious Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy (‘NBTA’), which at the time boasted 7 number ones on their CV, things were changing in the world of tennis and the NBTA was at the forefront of this; efficiency was the emphasis - take short backswings, finish the point as quickly as possible and don’t showboat (remember Jimmy Connors?). The NBTA was run like a boot camp and so it was easy to get students to internalise efficiency.
The third and final point, which I consider to be the most differentiable quality as not only a tennis player, but as a racquet sportsman, is his ability to anticipate where the ball is going. As a kid we were taught to never take your eye off the ball, but I personally don’t believe Federer does this. For a split second, Federer watches his opponent’s body language to see where he will places the ball and he is there! This has two benefits, firstly he does not have to run so fast saving him energy and secondly, this lets him dominate the point.
Any player can have a perfect technically, just as a salsa dancer can practice the hook spin 1000 times a day and achieve perfection with the hook spin in 6 months, or just as a tennis player can hit 1000 forehands in practice a day and have a perfect forehand in 1 year. However, to differentiate oneself as a tennis player, one needs tactical creativity at the level of Nadal, Murray and Federer.
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