I’ve been watching Roger Federer’s performance over the years with great admiration. While he did so much for tennis, I think that his greatest influence expands outside the court.
Tennis is a tough sport. Hitting the ball with a racquet is hard. It’s a combination of skill, speed, strength, mental and physical endurance. Top players are undoubtedly talented, but likely not the most talented players that entered court. Many incredible juniors don’t make it and are not able to continue their journey. It’s true that tennis is highly expensive and rewards come very late, but this happens in any sport – only a few get to the top. What makes them different?
Hard truths about success
During the Australian Open tournament and after winning it, Roger has been obsessively asked by journalists how he managed to stay on top of every match, considering his late injury, age, and the long absence from the circuit. I guess many of them were looking for something much more sensational than Roger’s simple response:
I worked very hard with my team. I tried to work the hardest.
Disappointed, journalists sometimes pushed for a different answer – “Well, but there is something more… isn’t it?” Yet, Roger gave them the same simple truth:
My team worked very hard. We simply did it.
Roger knows. He got into the spotlight, but it’s all about the team trusting him and backing him up 24h/day.
Some argue that Federer is not even the oldest player ever winning a Grand Slam. In 1972, Ken Rosewall won Australian Open at 37 years of age. Let’s face it, tennis today is much different than it was 45 years ago. After 1980, Agassi used to be the oldest winner at 32.
Getting old does not help in sports, especially when speed, strength, and endurance are required. Tennis Grand Slams favor youth because there are many long matches over a relatively short period of time and recovery takes longer with age.
What can we learn from Roger?
You are not alone in the court
You are the one hitting the tennis ball, but the team is carrying you on their shoulders. They are the ones who worked with you, starting with the physical preparation and ending with the recovery. Do not forget about the family as it’s an important part of the team as well. Everyone is working hard to help you win.
Build a great team and the team will empower you. We all have our own courts and racquets.
Technology is vital
When you have to super-optimize and build the impossible, technology is a great ally. The power of data is incredible. Medicine has also evolved a lot. Roger had knee surgery and he managed to become competitive again in one of the most soliciting sports for the leg articulations. Certainly, Roger is an elite athlete, but technology helped a lot.
Never give up
So many reputable experts said that Federer would never win another Grand Slam again. His injury was regarded as the end of his professional tennis career. But Roger is a fighter. He worked hard and showed everyone that he can do the impossible. Beating your biggest rival in a Grand Slam final is doable.
Being determined always pays off. Truth is that most people give up easily. Even teams surrender. But he has built a team ready to fight for every ball.
It takes a lot of pain
Top athletes look good, they are smiling on TV, and their lives seem perfect. However, few people can even imagine the excruciating pain you feel after a 5 hour long match. Every muscle, tendon, bone, nerve, and tissue make themselves present. How many people could even try the ice baths, the first step in the recovery of damaged muscles?!
Getting to the top and staying there will suck your blood out. Literally.
It’s the rule, not an accident
While he defeated Rafa in the final, Federer and Nadal are very much alike. Rafa was also injured and has recovered. He also says that his tennis performance is the result of hard work. And like Roger, he also has an amazing team behind. They are both men of great character.
Serena and her sister, Venus, are also great examples. They are 35, respectively 36 years old and they played the Australian Open final. They are two amazing women who worked very hard with their teams to do the impossible. Their mental strength triumphed against so many young players.
Being the best requires more than talent
Team, hard work, the smart use of technology, pain, and focus are the keywords. This is valid in any field – sports, business, and even personal life. Having an exceptional achievement is something anyone can do – by accident, luck or temporary effort. But staying consistent is much harder, simply because very few people are capable to keep on marching.
Why are people doing this? Because they love it. Because it’s fun. Because hard work is always rewarded. And truth is you have to be a bit crazy, but that comes with the territory 🙂
Federer is an exceptional athlete and even a bigger character. Thank you, Roger, for reminding us all about these hard truths and congratulations to your team. Keep on playing!