Keep your eye on the ballIt’s that time of year again – grass, strawberries & cream, and uncertain weather. Yes, it’s Wimbledon fortnight. Two years ago my topic was the toppling of the great Roger Federer by the Serbian player Novak Djokovic to become Men’s Singles Champion,   This week, I watched as Djokovic was beaten in what was only the third round by the American Sam Querry (world ranking No. 41), whose USP is his big serve.  In the intervening two years, Djokovic has gone from strength to strength, winning the four Grand Slam titles in the last 12 months – only the third man to hold all four of these titles at the same time.  So what went wrong this week?

There has, as always, been a lot of comment about the reasons for Djokovic’s defeat, coupled with speculation over his chances at the Olympics next month in Rio – or even whether he will appear  at all.  Djokovic himself, inscrutable as ever, referred briefly to possible health issues and to the difficulty he anticipated in motivating himself for Wimbledon so soon after his other major triumphs. If you understood Serbian, you might have heard him mutter that he had never arrived in London so completely exhausted!  Novak isn’t a player who fazes his opponents with showy brilliance – instead he’s a specialist in building an intricate web of strokes which wear down his opponents. This takes a mental focus which maybe he just couldn’t summon up on the day.

The star himself took a fairly philosophical view of the future in his press interview. He pointed out that a player with a strong serve is always a challenge when he’s on a roll, as in order to get ahead, the opponent has to break that serve. He also referred to his life ‘outside tennis’ with his wife and family, his plan to spend more time with them, and the fact that the last year, although  triumphant, has also been a very long and exhausting one, and he needed some rest. With his customary graciousness, he acknowledged that, on the day, his opponent deserved his victory.

So – what can we learn and apply to ourselves and our business life?

  • The first and most obvious point – it’s tough at the top and staying there is just as difficult as getting there. You need sustained effort.
  • You’re only as good as your last game? I’m not too sure about this one. At the moment all everyone thinks about it Djokovic’s defeat – but this doesn’t take away his immense achievements and, if he is successful in Rio, this week’s loss will seem like a mere blip.
  • In tennis, the person serving has an advantage, and, as players take it in turn to serve, this advantage is evenly distributed. Therefore you have to find a strategy to overcome your competitors’ advantage.
  • If your success is built on a complex strategy, then taking your eye off the ball (or being unable to apply your usual level of concentration and focus) can be disastrous, especially where your competitor has a single strategy.
  • Being magnanimous in defeat is much more difficult than in victory – but if you can manage it, do so! It will gain you support for next time.
  • It’s not true that there’s always a next time – but there is such a thing as recognising the importance of a work-life balance.

Good luck in Rio, Novak!