Inside the head of a champion

Which champion tennis player at the Wimbledon Championships meticulously goes through a series of rituals as a part of his pre-match routine? Rafael Nadal (ESP) organises things around him to help him feel more relaxed, he lines up water bottles with all their labels facing in the same direction.

It may not seem an important thing to do in an every day situation but during a high level competition, it can mean a lot.

Matthew Syed, who specialises in the sporting mind, said the placebo effect can have a profound effect. A sugar pill can be a benefit as long as you believe it’s helping you in some way.

Roger Federer (SUI) 6 time Wimbledon Champion

Djokovic (SRB) bounces the ball a certain number of times before serving, which may seem like a superstition to the rest of us, but the process of doing it frees the mind to perform. If you believe in a superstition deep within yourself this will affect your performance.

Jonny Wilkinson had an established kicking routine, Nadal lines up his water bottles, Sharapova (RUS) would jig along the baseline.

Repetitve behaviour is not a bad thing to have in your psychological repertoire since it’s all about doubt; whether something is going to work or not. Doubt is the most pernicious thing of all because it leads to hesitancy. If you let doubt come in ..’are you going to hit this forehand well?’ .. there’s a good chance you might hit it badly and you probably will.

Superstitions help you to remove doubt altogether by giving yourself the illusion of having extra control. This can be influential on performance and therefore very important.

Success is creating a state of mind that allows you to obtain what you really want. Goran Ivanisevic (CRO) famously got to three Wimbledon finals. When he got to the fourth; he did the same thing as he had done in one of the earlier rounds. He watched teletubbies, went to the same restaurant, ate the same meal, sat in the same seat, because all those activities were specific to him at his time of playing and implicated in his earlier success, so he kept doing them.

Djokovic (SRB) and Tsonga (FRA) in the semi-finals.

Nadal always wants the logos on his socks to be pointing in the same directions, it’s going to help him win tennis matches. It seems slightly bizarre and perplexing but as long as this is going on in the privacy of Nadal’s head it symbolizes ‘this is going to help me’.

If someone were brave enough to walk across to his side of the net and kick the bottles over; Nadal would probably raise an eyebrow, put his bottles back in line, make sure the labels on his socks were all right, fiddle with his shorts and carry on playing. It might turn the crowd more towards his side.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) Wimbledon Champion 2008 and 2010

Focussed mind power is one of the strongest forces in the universe. Each of us has a spiritual side, although finding it can be an arduous process and how we address it can differ remarkably.

There is an intelligence in the universe and according to Mark Victor Hansen, the awakening of our spiritual aspect is always a precursor to future greatness. Seen in great leaders such as Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and thousands of others.

Each felt spiritually awakened and believed that his or her accomplishments were directed by a greater force, operating spiritually in the universe.

They felt they could personally tap into that force and use it. The same exists for you and me, it’s just waiting for us to awaken it … and use the force.

Kvitova (CZE) wins Women’s Wimbledon Championships 2011

Djocovic (SRB) wins Men’s Wimbledon Champonships 2011

Wimbledon finals 2012

Serena Williams powered her way to a fifth Ladies Championships. Hopefully, with Serena winning the title and Roger making a bid for the men’s tomorrow might help to raise the acceptable competitive playing ages for tennis.

It’s 2011, it has been mentioned that Roger is playing better than he was in 2003. This is his twenty-fourth Grand Slam final and eighth Wimbledon final. If he does win, it will be his seventh Wimbledon Championship title.

After his match against Djokovic, he said ‘Obviously, I’m ecstatic. I’m so happy, I played a great match today, a great tournament. A tough tournament, really. I was able to play some fantastic tennis today. I thought Novak played well too. The first two sets went really quickly, then the third set was obviously key to the match. I was able to step it up and get a bit lucky, maybe because he played at break points too at the end of the third set. It was a tough match, but great crowds. It really was a lot of fun playing out there today.’

‘Well, particularly the first year when I didn’t reach the finals.. it was a bit of a shock for lots of people when I lost to Berdych. Not for me, because I knew how tough he was. People were saying “how are we going to survive a Wimbledon final without you?” And, for me, it was not a problem. I went on vacation, relaxed and tried to prepare for the next event. I hoped I would play a better tournament the following year, which I didn’t. I lost to JK-Wilfried Tsonga last year, who played another amazing match. Of course, it feels great to be in a Wimbledon final. This is what you want to be playing for the Wimbledon trophy. I’ve had so many nice memories on centre court, so I think I also need my fair share of tough losses out there, which I did have in the past.

Maybe my opponent won’t have played a centre court final before, never-the-less, they have … I don’t want to say … nothing to lose. They are going to come out there and play a great match. These guys are playing grand slam finals before, they know how to do it. Particularly here at Wimbledon, I lost to Jo last year. To Andy, I think I’ve lost more than I’ve beaten him. So, I’ve got a tough task ahead of me and there’s obviously a lot on the line for me, in terms of winning here, the all-time Grand Slam record, world number one… So, I’m also going into that match with some pressure but I’m excited about it -that’s what I play for. I hope I can play a good match on Sunday.’ Swiss maestro of grass court tennis, Roger Federer.

Andy Murray will challenge Federer for the Championship title

After his match against Tsonga; ‘a bit of relief excitement yes tough to explain. It was such a close match in the end the last two sets .. and both of us had chances. Fourth set I was up a break he came back hit a couple of unbelievable passing shots then he had obviously the breakpoints at four all. And .. just managed to hang tough enough and so happy to go through.’

On the last point ‘I thought it was in I knew when it left my racket it was good. I thought that he challenged originally and they said there was no call so I obviously challenged and it was good. He said to me he thought the last point was wide that was what he said. Then, he said, well done and yes, I thought it was a great tournament, and that was it.

Started the match really well, I served very well one loose game on my serve beginning of the third set. He came back into it he started serving better and he was hitting some unbelievable volleys you know a few when I was breakpoint down .. dive volleys. And one where I lobbed over his head and he hit a sort of forehand passing shot from way back on the court. So I did well to hang in the end because he started to play really well.

Basically, just thought I wanted to get off to a good start in the set. You know I held a tough service game I think. It was thirty all .. played a couple of good points to hold that game .. then I felt more comfortable after that because obviously, you know, tough to lose that third set. I just tried to stay calm but it’s not easy. You can stay calm, it’s just difficult. There’s a lot of pressure obviously when you’re on the court. There’s a lot of stress but you need to try and focus on the next point not on what’s happened in the past. It is hard sometimes but it makes a big difference when you do it.

It has been a great tournament so far, and hopefully I can go one better on Sunday. Big relief, yes. I mean I’ve been doing this tournament and it was a very emotional end to the match. Yes, I’ve just got to try and keep it together for the final and hopefully play a good match. It will be one of the biggest matches of my life. I’ve had experience playing Roger in the finals at slams before and I need to use that to my advantage. Learn from my mistakes and also the things he did well. Yes, it’s obviously going to be a very tough match. He’s playing great tennis as always and I’m very excited. Cheers.’ – Murray

Even though English is roger’s second language or third or fourth perhaps, his choice of language expresses his feelings pretty well. Andy’s more fluid with his language for sure, spends a lot of time talking about individual points which flags up how much those mean to him.

Semis 2012

Murray plays Tsonga in today’s semi since Nadal (SPA) was knocked out in the second round.

Tsonga’s hits the ball with fearsome energy and has huge serves although his performance fluctuates which makes playing him very difficult. .

He plays without a coach ‘I got tired of being told what to do, now I do what I want. I am so happy I will have a second chance, it was not easy today. It was really tough today so I’m really happy to go through, it doesn’t matter who I’m playing. It’s a semi-final and I will try to play my best tennis and enjoy this moment of course and try to win. I will play and we will see what happens.’ Tsonga (FRA)

Murray served eighteen aces along with thirty-nine unforced errors against Ferrer (spa) and came through four long sets with three tie breaks to win their match. His stubbornness and amazing ability to stay calm in a crisis of which there were a few, meant Murray scrambled back into the match to arrive at the deciding point which he won with an ace.

Andy has a very sneaky serve and when it’s hot he can save himself a lot of drama by using it. He is so good defensively although he can find himself reacting more than he is proactive. He shows some hesitancy during big moments but he is keeping everything in and concentrating on the next ball which is possibly due to Lendl’s influence.

‘It was tricky. It was windy on the court so from the far side, from where we come onto the court, it was a lot easier to dictate the points from that end. So, each time I started from the tougher end today and went behind in most of the tie breaks and managed to come back from that.

In the rain break I went for a shower threw some cold water on my face saw the physio, got stretched. You know it’s a bit of a weird atmosphere because David’s one bed away from me and we’re in a tiny room with all the coaches and physios and stuff so it’s a little bit uncomfortable. It’s a very intense atmosphere so I tried to get myself going just before I went back out.

It’s a huge match for both of us we’re coming off at such a critical stage of the match, it was so close and that fourth set.. if I’d lost that it was going to be a very tough fight.

It’s going to be a tough match against Tsonga he’s serving very well. I played him in the quarters a few years ago and it was a very tight match. I’m going to have to play very well to win that one.’ – Murray

Finals 2012
Grand Slam tennis is as much a contest of the mind as a battle of technique.

Federer (SUI) sailed through his quarter final with Youzhny (RUS) showing limited exertion winning two sets in less than half an hour.

I mean it’s a beautiful feeling out there when you’re winning like this you’re in the lead and things happen for you. You feel your opponent has to do something extraordinary and if you play great you’re going to just cruise. It’s a strange feeling to have out there but never-the-less I am always aware of the situation that things can turn around very quickly in tennis as the score does reset after every set. So you always are closer with your opponent and then .. with the rain .. you never know if you do go indoors .. that things momentum for instance changes completely and that’s where I think I did well today as well. Not just playing fore and backhands and serves I also had a good mental mindset and I stuck with the game plan until the very end, which worked perfectly.

I was okay I mean I was able to serve again into all corners the way I wanted to. I was able even to move actually very well .. still obviously, sometimes, a bit worried and you know that at times, okay, it’s not worth it to break your back over trying to reach a point a ball which you’re going to probably loses the point anyway, over. This is where you just got to listen to your signals a little bit, but it was good going through the extremes again and seeing actually that the body’s holding up. So, I’m very positive.

The form needs to be good against Novak. I think I have played more than one hundred matches on grass now so I know how it works. I also think the confidence is important at this point you know we don’t often or enough speak about how important confidence is and that’s what I’ve had for a year now. I think I’ve been able to help that confidence a bit more in the match today and throughout the tournament as well. So, I’m happy where I am right now, and then I hope I can bring it to the court on Friday.

No doubt about it that I think and I do believe that I can play my very best on centre court at Wimbledon. Obviously, you can imagine how excited I am again about being in the semi’s after losing two times two tough quarter finals the last couple of years. So, I’m getting a chance against the defending champion and the world number one to show that I’m still very good on grass, which I’ve showed already all week. So, it’s an exciting match up for me, it is the first match on grass against each other between me and Novak, so I think that’s exciting for both of us. But, also maybe for the media and fans and we’re both looking forward to it, I’m sure.

I mean you would think that maybe he’s slightly the favourite because he did win here last year and he’s won Australia already this year. He won three Grand Slams on the trot, so you think, okay, grand slam play….? But, then again there’s a history here me having won six times at the end of the day .. it doesn’t matter. It’s just going to play out the way it will. And, we usually do play very well against each other and I hope its going to be the same thing again this Friday coming up.’ – Federer

Novak ‘it’s great to reach another semi-finals at Wimbledon you know I’m feeling good about myself on the court. I’m playing well on the grass, and hopefully I can continue that way. Every match towards the end of the Grand Slam you know gets more difficult. You get high ranked players more quality players you don’t want to underestimate anybody.

I’ve played well when I needed to against Mayer (GER) who for a reason reached the quarter finals and he has a lot of variety in the game. And, then there’s Roger he has a really smart game for this surface that’s why he has been winning his matches so quickly. We don’t need to spend the words about him he has been very successful in the last seven to eight years and I guess this is his favourite tournament you know we’ll see what happens.

You know most of our matches we play are going the distance and very few points decide the winner and we’ve been playing so many matches at the Grand Slam level that we have lots of experience playing on the big stage and there is a lot on the line obviously. It is an important match for both of us and I’m sure we’re going to have lots of motivation.

Winning last year brings back the best memories. I always dreamed of winning this tournament and I realised my childhood dreams. I was fortunate enough to have the closet people in my life; my family, my friends, my team, you know, to be there with me so we can share this success.

You know, I tried to eat the grass a little bit I promised myself I will do that. I don’t know if it was a really smart thing to do, but it was interesting for me.. it was just a little promise I made to myself and who knows.. I might do it again.

It was hard to imagine, really, what I had achieved right after the match. I guess, it was just the day after when I went to Serbia and shared the success with my people. A hundred thousand people on the streets on the way from the airport to the city. It was an incredible feeling just being around the people seeing them and seeing how much the success that I’ve made means to them, how much they appreciate what I’ve done. Yes, it was not just my own success it was the success of my whole country I was very blessed to be there.

I am coming from a small country that has been through a lot of difficulties in every way. We have had lots of wars, political and economical troubles in the last twenty to thirty years. But, you know sport is something our people are relying on. You know, that’s why we get to experience these celebrations after these big events not just us tennis players, but we had lots of success in the last twenty years, you know, in team sports like basketball, volleyball, water polo. These kind of sports brought a lot of medals in world and European Championships to our country and the people always greet us athletes in the best possible way so that’s something that motivates us even more.’ – Novak Djokovic (SRB)

Queen’s tournament

Marin Cilic (CRO) did not win the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club (London) in the way he would have wanted. He won the championship by default since his opponent David Nalbandian lost his temper and injured a line judge.


A frustrated Nalbandian strode over to a piece of sponsorship panelling in front of a line judge to kick it which cut the man’s legs who was sitting behind it; Nalbandian. The referee of the atp world tour decided to cancel the final which did not impress the crowd. The trophy and championship title was given to cilic in a quick presentation.

Cilic spoke of not winning the tournament in the way he would have wanted but he was ready for the Wimbledon Championships in just over a week’s time. Nalbandian apologised twice then went on to talk about the atp and how it treats the players unfairly.

Cilic spoke of his preparation for the tournament before the match and what the championship means to him. ‘It means that I was working really well these last six weeks, his form has been on the rise always building on it, which is the most important thing that you can be doing. Playing consistently well, good form makes you a better player. He said always try to beat the players who are behind you and that you are presenting your best play to the ones who are in front. Present a danger to them you have to believe in yourself and you have to believe that what you are doing is the right thing.

If you start to doubt yourself, there is always going to be difficulty in that last game, and are you going to put yourself into trouble. But, when you know it’s the right thing and you’re going to execute it well, then you’re going to put your opponent in the position where you want them to be. That’s the case with the best players in the world they are so used to winning and when they come to the finish line, they are going to execute it the best way they can. And, it’s really tough to come back at that.

Cilic finishes by saying the most important part for me is the start of the points those first couple of shots and how they are played. And, then put the other player in tough positions.

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