It was Sunday, January 29, 2017. The Tennis community had seen in the past fortnight, the most unexpected turn of events at the first Grand Slam of the year- the Australian Open. Some had called it the resurgence of the ‘old guard’- the irreplaceable tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal- who had ruled the sport for the last decade. They had managed to defeat every other player in the draw and were in the finals of a Grand Slam- yet again. The world was again jittery at the prospect of another ‘FeDal’ final- one that promised a stratospheric level of exemplary tennis, coupled with subtle artistry and sheer will.
It wasn’t just a match. Some said the future of the sport hung in the balance. Others were sure this would be the match that would settle the GOAT (Greatest of all Time) debate. Federer had in his kitty a whopping 17 Slams, while Nadal had 14. If Nadal won, he would close the gap, with the French open coming up- Federer’s record could be shattered in due course.
Experts were not ready to root for Federer. He had had a disappointing record against his nemesis Nadal. He hadn’t beaten him at a Grand Slam since 2007. He had been away from the sport for 6 months, after a knee surgery. He had had a tough draw, having to defeat three top-10 ranked players to reach the final. He was already over 35 years of age; his body was broken. And, how could one forget the mental block and the psychological scars he had against Nadal? Nadal could crumble his will by the sheer weight of his shots and his never-give-up attitude.
With odds heavily stacked against him, Federer entered the final. But, isn’t it what they say? Great champions need adversity to show why they are champions? How is pressure a privilege?
And Federer won. He won in 5 sets. He won after being behind in the fifth set. He won against Nadal. He won his 18th Slam. He defied every possible logic in the titanic three hours thirty-eight-minute contest. He cemented his place as the GOAT. There was no questioning him anymore.
There are lessons for us here. As business leaders, innovators, here are a few things the great Roger Federer can teach us:
- HAVE PATIENCE:
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Federer, for all his greatness, hadn’t won a slam since 2012. But, he kept pressing, kept pushing. He constantly put himself in positions from where he could achieve. He kept going even after 3 heartbreaking losses in Slam Finals to Novak Djokovic. Things take time, we must stay on course.
- BE HUMBLE:
“There are no draws in tennis, if there was one, I would be happy to share it (the Australian Open trophy) with Rafa (Nadal)”. This is what Federer said after winning. Do you believe this guy? He is probably the best to have played the sport, and he has the humility in victory to say this to his biggest rival- one who has inflicted defeat after defeat on him. Lesson: the bigger you get, the humbler you must become. No one loves a show-off.
The game is changing constantly, and those who can’t adapt will fall out of the race. Federer went out of his way to change his racket size, and change the way he hit his backhand (his weaker shot) against Nadal. If things aren’t working, change them. Flexibility is the hallmark of champions.
Who says conventions must be followed? Federer hits every shot in the Tennis book, and then some. His artistry creates magic on the court. There are shots that only he hits. There is always a better way to do things. Don’t follow the beaten path, always.
- IGNORE THE NAY-SAYERS:
There will always be people and circumstances against you. Federer hasn’t had a more improbable victory in his career than this match, where everyone thought that Nadal would win. Have firm belief in your game plan and be ready to invest yourself fully into it.
- TAKE RISKS:
You can’t play safe all the time. One characteristic of his victory over Nadal was his barrage of aggressive play that took time away from Nadal. Calculated risks pay off. We must be ready for them.
And, last but not the least, there is saying no to self-doubt and believing in yourself. “You play the ball, you don’t play the opponent…” said Federer after his victory. That’s it, right there! Stay in the moment, just play the balls life throws at you, without the weight of the past or the uncertainties of the future to trouble you.
We live in interesting times. It is for leaders like us, like at Gemini Solutions, to break passivity and go full force into building the life we want for ourselves. I wish all of us success, and hope the article will inspire you to rise and shine!