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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Djokovic Outlasts Murray; Nadal Stumps Federer Again

How about the men's semi finals of the Aussie Open? Outstanding! Two high level tennis matches. The difference between the winners and losers were very small. In fact it just goes to show that the details do really matter. Small things made the difference in Djokovic and Nadal winning in the semis.

The big question in the match up between Djokovic and Murray was if Murray was ready to step up and take out Djokovic. Could he stay positive in the natural ups and downs of playing the world #1? Could he hit big enough and control the court and win this match? Well, he sort of answered these questions. He did step up and he did play aggressive. Murray took a 2 sets to 1 lead by playing first strike tennis. He lost momentum after that and then worked his way back in to the fifth set (after going down 2-5) by upping his aggression.

Did Murray answer the question many media ask, "Is he mentally tough enough to win a Slam?" Probably to some extent but not completely. There were ups and downs in Murray's energy in this match - the slow start and the fourth set. However, I remind you that mental toughness does not equal the absence of adversity - being flawless. It is defined by a player's reactions when in adverse situations. While Murray was not perfect, he was much improved compared to previous slam final matches. He was for the most part under control and even positive late in the fifth set. I saw a fist pump, a positive yell... If he plays like this, and keeps this mental attitude, he will win a Slam.

The question I have about Rafa-Roger is this, is Rafa in Roger's head? Roger had a great start and despite hanging on to win the first set it seemed the inevitable Rafa comeback was going to happen. Fed believes he can beat anyone, but it seems Rafa makes him doubt himself. I guess every Superman has his kryptonite.

What struck me about each of these matches is the ability of these players to bounce back. Djokovic lost a 2-5 lead in the fifth and rebounded to win the match. Rafa loses the first set to Federer, and bounces right back. Bouncing back is a true sign of mental toughness. Mental toughness is not a permanent quality like eye color; it is a dynamic, changing mindset and feeling based on the person and his reaction to his situation.

Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer are all mentally tough tennis players. Let us not doubt their mental toughness. What we see from them when they play each other is that the pressure of their opponent causes them to struggle more mentally. This is natural. When they play the rest of the field they are able to dominant mentally; they always feel they have the edge.

The Aussie Open Final between Djokovic and Nadal should be awesome. Novak is trying to win a third straight slam and Rafa is trying to reverse last year's disturbing pattern of Djokovic beating him in Finals. Simply, Djokovic has the edge on Rafa because he is able to push Rafa back off the court and control the points. Rafa will have to have a great night on his first serve and hit with depth. No matter what happens in this match we know for sure both players will remain resilient and bounce back from adversity.

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