Sometimes you need fast reactions, and sometimes it’s better to not react at all. I haven’t watched a great deal of tennis during the past year and a half, but last weekend I got stuck into the French Open telecasts and I before long I remembered why my wife and I used to be Grand Slam TV junkies… and why I have a job that more or less allows me to work when I want to, play when I want to and sit in front of the TV when I want to.
Sure, the physical feats of top flight tennis players are awe-inspiring –powerful serves, pin point ground strokes and delicate drop-shots – but it’s the mental side of the game that really fascinates me, and that’s the side of the game that I believe holds valuable lessons for all of us.
These thoughts materialised while I was watching a fourth round encounter between Spaniard Alberto Montanes and Italian Fabio Fognini. For more than three hours the clay court specialists played at the top of their games trading powerful winners that consistently landed within inches of the lines and it was a fair reflection of play when the contest was dead even at two sets each and six games all in the deciding set. What happened next, however, didn’t seem fair at all, even if it was quite educational.
When Fognini fell behind on his serve and Montanes appeared to be on the brink of victory the Italian grabbed his leg and called for a medical timeout and the umpire stopped play. After about seven minutes of treatment for an injury that looked suspiciously like leg cramps which the rules say are only allowed to be treated between games, Fognini came back to hold his serve and eventually win the match.
The thing is, he didn’t really win it; it was more that Montanes lost it… mentally. He simply couldn’t put his man away. Up to the dodgy timeout the Spaniard was pounding ground strokes from side to side but once Fognini was injured Montanes just tried to keep the ball in play and that allowed his opponent to hammer winners without running too much. Basically, Montanes stopped playing his own game which was devised to beat a mobile hard-hitting opponent and started to do the minimum he thought was necessary to beat an injured man.
Considering the pressure of the situation and the amount of physical effort he had already put in I think it would be harsh to say he choked – so I won’t say it – but he definitely lost focus and reacted when he should have remained proactive. This kind of thing happens all the time even at the top level of professional tennis.
And there it is; the lesson we can apply to our own lives… always try to be proactive, which means we should take responsibility for our own lives and decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, and how we should behave instead reacting to the actions of others and justifying our misdeeds with the old, “well, he did it first,” argument.
It might also be a good idea to take up challenging activities such as tennis that allow us to practice our ability to stay focused.