In the summer of 2010 David Nalbandian (and I paraphrase) said that the reason Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are always playing in the final weekend and are ranked 1 and 2 without challenge is because of the mental game. Their mental toughness and confidence set them apart.
Fast forward 12 months... The biggest story of 2012 is Novak Djokovic. Novak is playing out of this world tennis and dominating top 10 players. The only tourney he entered that he didn't win was the French Open. And, Novak's effort at Wimbledon was historic. Winning his first Wimbledon and dethroning Nadal from the #1 ranking. What a fortnight!
(Want to read more about the Wimbledon Final and my take on what happened, download the free article on the Resources "PTR Exhibition of Conviction Djokovic Nadal")
But, how did Djokovic crack the stranglehold on the Top 2 rankings in tennis? Nadal and Federer have locked down the Top 2 for most of the last 6 years.
Novak was able to become the #1 player in the world and win Wimbledon because of two very important thought processes.
1. He believed in himself. He always believed he could be #1 in the World.
2. He was willing to work hard to make the necessary changes to pass Nadal and Federer.
Novak describes his mindset on how he finally reached his lifetime goals...
Q. When you started to play really well, Federer and Nadal had the world divided and they owned the world basically. How difficult was it to break this, both personally, psychologically in your own mind, to be able to beat both these guys, and also just in general?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, we all know the careers of Nadal and Federer. We don't need to spend words again. They have been the two most dominant players in the world the last five years. They have won most of the majors we are playing on.
So sometimes it did feel a little bit frustrating when you kind of get to the later stages of a Grand Slam, meaning last four, last eight, and then you have to meet them. They always come up with their best tennis when it matters the most.
But, look, you know, it's a process of learning, a process of developing and improving as a tennis player, as a person, and just finding the way to mentally overcome those pressures and expectations and issues that you have.
I always believed that I have quality to beat those two guys. I always believed I have quality to win majors, Grand Slams, and that was the only way I could be here in this position, you know.
I mean, I have full respect for those two guys, what they have done. Anytime I play them, I mean, it's a great match. But the mental approach has to be positive. You know, I have to win this match. There's no other way.
(Djokovic Wimbledon Press Conference from ASAPsports.com, July 3, 2011)
If we can teach this mindset to junior players imagine how many would reach their potential? The belief to achieve great things even in the face of serious and realistic barriers, and the work ethic to not only work hard but to work on the things that were difficult. Djokovic was serving more double faults than aces at this time last year, but now his serve is a weapon as evidenced by his Wimbledon title.
Djokovic can't get complacent and he knows this, because the hardest working player that has defined the ability to learn and adapt is ranked #2 - Rafael Nadal. And, with this awesome, open-to-learning mindset Nadal will for sure be a factor at the Open and challenging for the #1 spot.
RAFAEL NADAL: The game is easy. The game is not that difficult. So think about a lot of things will be a mistake, in my opinion. Don't think is how you playing well, how you not playing that well.
Is true we can analyze that my game is not bothering him. We have to find how I can bother him another time. I did in the past.
He's in the best moment of his career. That's true, too. I am in one of the best moments of my career. Still not enough for him. I have to play longer. I have to play more aggressive. I have to have less mistakes. Yes, that's what I have to do.
But start to think if his backhand or he takes the ball earlier, yeah, he's very complete player. He has good backhand, very good forehand, good serve. His movements probably are one of the best in of the world in this moment.
Seriously, I lose because I am playing against the best player of the moment, the best player of the world tomorrow, and I am the second. And when you play against these players and they are playing unbelievable, the normal thing is lose. That's what happened last few times.
My experience says this level is not forever. Even for me when I was last year winning three Grand Slams, my level of last year is not forever. Probably the level of Novak of today is not forever. I gonna be here fighting all the time, waiting my moment. I don't have to wait a lot, because I already won three tournaments this year and one Grand Slam. But waiting my moment to beat him another time.
I understand the sport like this. When one player is better than you, at this moment the only thing you can do is work, try to find solutions, and try to wait a little bit for your time.
Last five times wasn't my time. I gonna wait and I gonna try to a sixth. And if the sixth doesn't happen, to the seventh. It's going to be like this. That's the spirit of the sport.
(Nadal Wimbledon Press Conference ASAPsports, July 3, 2011)
Again, if you could bottle-up this mentality, the solution-focus, and give it to juniors imagine how it would affect the development of our young juniors in the US.
For coaches and parents... Did you notice how often Nadal said "this moment"? It shows his mindset. Rafa definitely gives credit to Djokovic and believes he was the better player in this moment. However, with hard work and more opportunities Nadal has total belief that he can find a way "to bother" Novak and begin beating him again.
I cannot wait to see what Rafa tries to do to overcome Novak's dominance of 2011 and Novak's response. This will be great tennis!