“Brilliant”, “awesome”, “phenomenal,” “the greatest of all time” are just some of the breathless descriptions used to describe the tennis genius that is Roger Federer.
When Federer left Wimbledon last year with a serious knee injury and took six months out for rehabilitation, few people thought he would win another Grand Slam title, let alone a further two (so far) in 2017. Let the record state that I’ve always believed Federer will win 20 Grand Slam titles – although I didn’t think it would take quite so long.
Indeed nobody discussed the possibility that Federer might so completely rebuild his aura that, regardless of what the world rankings say, he is once again the best player in the world. And by some margin. His detractors mistakenly believed that his glory days were well behind him.
But, as he proved for a record breaking eighth time on the cathedral of Wimbledon’s Centre Court, Roger Federer is one of those rare champions for whom numbers cannot gild genius. Roger loves to win, and he strives for it more purposefully and convincingly in the autumn of his career than the young contenders chasing him. Yet it is as if victory follows art, not the other way round.
Roger Federer’s artistry may take him to a whole other level, as the American novelist and former junior tennis prodigy David Foster Wallace described in the classic New York Times essay: “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.” But there are nevertheless lessons we can draw from the great man, and apply to our own endeavours.
Here are my 5 takeaways from Sunday’s final.
While many doubted that he could ever be what he was, doubted that five years without a Wimbledon title could be an interregnum rather than the end, doubted that six months off after his semi-final defeat a year ago, by a man a decade younger, wasn’t the thin end of retirement in disguise, Federer gave this sage advice in his post-match interview:
I kept on believing and dreaming and here I am today for my eighth title…. “If you keep believing, you can go really far in life.”
Why is Federer’s advice so brilliant? It’s so simple after all. Well, the fact is that many people give up on their dreams. Results don’t go the way they want, they suffer a few defeats and things get tough. Then they quit and accept a mediocre version of themselves. They compromise on their dreams. Then they stop growing, learning, and working on themselves.
It took Federer five long years of hard work to win another Wimbledon. Yes he had doubts. Yes he had time off due to injury. Yes he brought in former players like Stephan Edberg to add another dimension to his game. Yes he made micro-adjustments and improvements like changing his backhand to drive it more emphatically and he recalibrated the balance between his net and baseline play. But he never stopped believing in himself.
In order to achieve our dreams, we have to keep believing in ourselves. No matter what others around us might say. Self-belief becomes harder and harder after years of losing and coming up short. But if we dig deep, persevere through the hard times, continue to work hard, and keep believing in ourselves, anything is possible.
2. Turn Pro
Federer is the ultimate professional, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to give himself the very best chance of realising his goals.
If you’ve read Steven Pressfield’s books, The War of Art and Turn Pro (and I strongly recommend you do) you’ll know that he proposes the model of the amateur and the professional. Pressfield believes that what stops us from realising our full potential is we live our lives as amateurs. The solution, as Pressfield’s books suggests, is that we turn pro.
Turning pro is free, but it’s not easy. You don’t need to take a course or buy a product. All you have to do is change your mind.”
But this ‘change of mind’ demands sacrifice, and is often accompanied by an interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at great cost, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Turning pro hurts. It’s messy and it’s scary. But it’s where we find our power, our will, our unique voice and our self-respect. By overcoming our inner resistance, we become who we always meant to be, but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out.
In other words, stop looking at that ‘shiny new object’ as the answer to why your business is not operating to its potential. And start doing the activities that you’ve been resisting doing – the cash flow forecast, tracking your KPIs, taking consistent action towards your goals – and behave like a consummate professional.
3. Retain Focus
There are times when playing an injured opponent can cause a player to lose his focus but Federer remained calm and composed throughout the match.
Marin Cilic battled as hard as he could, but he was clearly hampered by severe pain in his left foot that required a medical timeout early in the second set. There were times when the Croat’s struggles were painful to watch. Especially the excruciating moment when Cilic had an emotional melt-down as the realisation hit him that a deep penetrating blister on the sole of his foot meant he could not play his best tennis.
Meanwhile Federer had no idea that his opponent, just a few short metres away was in such distress. As Federer explained in his post-match interview, he did not want his focus to be distracted by what was going on with his opponent. So he concentrated on his own game.
The moral of the story is to play your own game. Ignore what everybody else is doing. Cut out the distractions and diversions. And whatever you do, plough your own furrow.
4. Surround Yourself With Believers
Federer’s wife Mirka is his number 1 supporter, doing everything she can to make his life run smoothly, despite the fact they have two sets of mischievous twins. Federer is surrounded by his family, who are at most tournaments to cheer him on, as well as a long term support team which includes his fitness trainer of 17 years, Pierre Paganini.
It is also no coincidence that Federer is surrounded by an army of adoring fans. In fact, Federer has won the fans’ award as the ATP’s most popular player for 14 successive seasons. In 2016, Federer picked up 56% of all votes cast despite only playing for half a season.
But listen to Federer talk, and you’ll see that he works hard to sustain these relationships. Acknowledging his fans in speeches. Giving lengthy post-match interviews in multiple languages. Sharing what he’s doing on social media. He treats his fans with the same reverence and respect that they have for him.
5. … But Keep Your Feet Firmly On The Ground
When we’re successful, it’s easy to ‘get above ourselves’ and believe our own hubris. The Federer girls by all accounts do a great job of keeping their dad’s feet firmly on the ground.
At this year’s Australian Open, Federer recounted, the girls were having a great time playing with their friends. But come the quarter finals, the twins had had enough and decided they wanted to go home and go skiing. Never mind that their dad was making a tennis comeback that few had dreamed possible. Never mind that their dad was a tennis legend about to make history once again.
I would be unhappy on the tour without them. I would retire… It’s good for my mind, when I come back from a match and I’ve lost, they’re there and don’t care if you’ve won or you’ve lost. It’s great.”
Meanwhile his twin sons, Leo and Lenny delighted the Wimbledon crowd by sticking their fingers in their mouths and pulling silly faces. Federer may have won a record breaking eighth Wimbledon trophy, but his boys stole the show with their antics.
Whoever we are, and whatever our successes, we all need people around us who make us realise we are mere mortals, no better than anybody else.
Join The Conversation
Question: Did you watch the match? What were your key takeaways? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share how you’re going to use this in the comments box below.
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I’m Denyse Whillier, a Sussex and London based business coach and consultant. I work with responsible business leaders to build profitable and successful brands that do good, make money and help to change the world. I draw on Built To Succeed™, my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, to help my clients to achieve their goals.
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