On July 1st, 2014, at arguably the greatest venue in all of tennis, two men stepped onto Centre Court at Wimbledon. One of these men proceeded to hit 37 aces, a total of 70 winners, and won in four sets. The other was Rafael Nadal. In what has already been proclaimed one of the biggest upsets in recent tennis history, 19-year-old wildcard Nick Kyrgios defeated Rafael Nadal in just the quarterfinals of the tournament. The win was no fluke, either–Kyrgios won with authority.
Dominating nearly the whole match, Kyrgios set the tone early, opening the first game with an ace. He would ride his nearly untouchable serve, breaching 122 mph at times, all the way through the match until he fittingly ended the game on another ace that seemed all too familiar to the first. And it was not as though Nadal played poorly or rolled over for Krygios to come storming through. While he had some tough shots that created opportunities for Krygios, the story of the day was Krygios’ talent rather than Nadal’s implosion.
Motivated, he said, primarily by the doubt his mother expressed prior to the match’s start, Kyrgios played the whole match with one purpose: enjoy the game. Smiling throughout nearly the whole competition, and even sprinkling happy dances in after particularly important points, Kyrgios had the positive mindset, self-concept, and confidence necessary to accomplish something pretty special. On July 1st, that just so happened to mean defeating the world’s #1 seed, despite sitting at #144 himself.
Nadal was not the only man to see his Wimbledon hopes come to a halt uncharacteristically early. Defending champion Andy Murray, the #3 seed of the tournament, lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. And while the result for the two tennis greats was the same, seeing the early exit, the circumstances of their losses were quite different.
Simply put: Nadal was outplayed. Kyrgios did what he needed to in order to win. Murray, on the other hand, was guilty of blunder after blunder before succumbing to Dimitrov in straight sets. Finishing the game with a pair of double-faults, Murray appeared to be a shadow of his former self–certainly nothing like the man who had surged past Novak Djokovic in the final the year before. Murray’s body language gave away the true story of the match. Fighting added pains from a back surgery in September of 2013, Murray was down on himself and his abilities from the start. Never once did he seem confident in what he was doing. While he never said outright if something in particular was bothering him–or what it was–he seemed to be waging an inner-war against his own thoughts and confidence, taking himself away from what was happening on the court. This culminated in him collapsing disconsolately into his chair following the match. He rose minutes later only to pay his respects to his hometown fans.
What is there to takeaway then, from these two matches? There seems to be one clear theme: how big a role the mental game can play. We saw it at its best as Kyrgios fought his way to the match of his life, mentally strong and confident through and through. We also saw it at its worst, with Murray collapsing in under the pressure of his own thoughts and ruminations, paving the way for his defeat.
So no matter the stage–Wimbledon or your local tennis courts–keep in mind how significant mental strength is and the impact that it can have on your performance. Practice it each and every day, giving it the same kind of attention you would your physical training. Work to maintain your focus on the task at hand while playing, staying positive each and every step along the way. You never know what might happen. Maybe you will be the next big star breaking onto the scene.
Al-Samarrai, R. (2014, July 1). Rafael Nadal sensationally knocked out by Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios in Wimbledon 2014 fourth round. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-2676959/Rafael-Nadal-sensationally-knocked-Australian-teenager-Nick-Kyrgios-Wimbledon-fourth-round.html
Andy Murray Loses Wimbledon 2014 Quarter-Final To Grigor Dimitrov. (2014, July 2). The Huffington Post UK. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/07/02/wimbledon-andy-murray-loses_n_5551383.html