Roger’s announcement that he is retiring from competitive tennis left millions of tennis fans wanting more. With no farewell tour (he is playing Laver Cup a week after his announcement and that is it), many of us are reflecting on his career. Regardless of your feelings towards him as an all time great, we can all admire his style of play that no one on tour can duplicate. As a competitive tennis player and coach, I try to learn from the greats. I felt this is a good time to take some moments from Roger’s career that we all can learn from too.
Here are 5 quotes that came from Roger or a close source that we all can learn from.
Quote #1: “Working on your weaknesses can make you better, but it doesn’t make you dangerous.” – Roger Federer.
When I work with a client on the tennis court, our main focus is commonly a weakness of theirs. From my perspective, having a strength can mitigate a weakness by keeping players from hitting to it. I just read a stat on Carlos Alcaraz’s win against Casper Rudd at the US Open. He hit just as many forehands on the deuce side as he did on the ad side. That’s a dangerous player! Roger did the same on his forehand. Players feared that shot.
Assuming you have a strong forehand and a weaker backhand, which side would you expect to make more mistakes? Many of us think it would be the backhand but I disagree. If you can’t hurt someone with it (such as your backhand), then don’t hurt yourself. Be steady. Go for the forehand as that will put pressure on your opponent. Yes, work on your weakness so it’s steady, but build that weapon so you can hurt your opponent. Otherwise you’re just waiting for your opponent to miss, which is no fun.
Quote #2: “The physical requirements and demands on professional tennis are among the most grueling of all sports. Anyone who wants to win major tournaments and become a top player must be quick as a sprinter, have the endurance of a marathon runner, take punishment like a boxer and execute like a forward in soccer.“
-Rene Staufler, in The Roger Federer Story: Quest for Perfection
Roger saw the connection to fitness and results in the early stages of his career. He put the time in the gym so his body could be ready for the epic matches we have all watched him play, many that he prevailed in. His career was mainly injury free, due to his grace on the court and grit in the gym. He put in the time to get his body ready and you should too. As a tennis instructor, I got certified as a strength and conditioning coach as I see a direct connection with a tennis player’s success and their fitness level. Being fitter on the court gives you the confidence that you can out last your opponent if the match goes long.
Quote #3: “I definitely feel there’s room for improvement.” – Roger Federer
If the one of the all time greats said this in his career, I think we can too. Getting on the tennis court and hitting balls with a friend is a great workout and lots of fun. But are you working towards something? Being on auto-pilot doesn’t help you see any results from the practice you’re doing. Have a tangible goal when hitting. It can be simple as working on moving forward on short balls or hitting all your shots cross court. Whatever it is, there needs to be focused practice to ensure you can keep improving.
This mentality did wonders for Roger’s career as he was able to take down his rival, Rafael Nadal in some epic matches during the end of his career including the 2017 Australian Open final. It was clear he working on taking the ball on the rise on his backhand, allowing him to dictate points and kept him from being pushed around so much in the rallies. His reward was another grand slam that many of us did not see coming!
Quote #4: “I fear no one but respect everyone.” – Roger Federer
How we compete is often much different than how we hit. You’ll see some amazing hitters out there; they are often asked to hit with the top pros in practice all the time. They cannot put together what they show on the practice court to match play. This is all mental and mindset needs to be the foundation to improving your competitiveness in matches. If you, like Roger, do not fear your opponent but rather respect them, does that change your approach to your match?
To me, respecting my opponent rather than fearing him puts me in a better headspace to play. I know the player is good so I need to give it my best effort. This also puts me at ease on the result. Losing to someone you respect is admirable. Fear can freeze you, which is exactly what you don’t want to happen on the tennis court. Respecting your opponent can get you in the right mindset to perform your best.
Quote #5: “I’m feeling too good on the court and having too much fun. Winning creates a lot of good energy.” – Roger Federer in 2006.
Roger won the Indian Wells and Miami Open tournaments (which are played right after each other) in the same year in 2005 and 2006. This is a very difficult task and Roger did it, while having fun. To play at the highest level and keep it fun is not easy. You can learn from this in two ways:
First lesson: Play matches that you have a good chance at winning 60% of the time. Winning breeds confidence and can give motivation to keep playing. Yes, playing players above your level is important to see what you need to work on but winning makes it rewarding. And let’s face it, winning is fun!
Second lesson: Are you having fun with the sport? Of course, this is a different type of fun. Fun for competitive athletes is the constant stress of playing for something that matters. Keeping score makes things more fun for those that enjoy the competitive environment. If you’re not enjoying your matches, take a deep look into why you think this is happening. Are your expectations getting in the way of your fun? Are you associating your identity with the outcome of the match? Something has to change if it’s not fun, otherwise tennis won’t be a sustainable option for you in the future.
Three words: Make it fun!