The oldest tennis tournament in the world has a storied history and you can read about it if that’s your interest. It started in 1877 as a kind of garden party event and has grown into one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, the others being the French, Australian and US Open tournaments. All are approximately two weeks long and Wimbledon is the only one played on grass. It’s now under way in London, June 25 – July 15.
If you want to see tennis played at the highest level, this is your opportunity and whether or not you are an athlete of any kind, there’s much to learn by watching the players and the matches. I suppose the same could be said of golf, swimming, archery and any other sport that is more of an individual than a team effort.
When I watch the top ranked men and women players executing their skills there are several things I notice about how they go about a deliberate, determined and highly refined approach to the game. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours principle of deliberate practice only accounts for an 18% difference in sports and he said that he didn’t mean it to apply to sports anyway. So what does account for the differences?
To start with, each highly ranked and highly paid player has an entire team working with him or her. There are a bevvy of professionals who help train and manage the player from an agent to a coach to a trainer and sometimes a physical therapist who works with injuries and rehabilitation. The years of training and practice for many of these players began at a very early age and as they proved their skills on the court, they advanced through tournaments according to their age and their success. The role of coaching often helps to facilitate the player’s skill to the next level.
It’s often easy to see the passion and commitment that these players bring to the court and the energy they display requires a high level of conditioning, of body, mind and attitude. The visibly expressed emotions range from frustration and disappointment to satisfaction and pleasure all demonstrated at various points during the game, set and match. Points won or lost can evoke a sudden eruption of feelings that crowds have come to expect. The differing personalities of each player become their personal signatures evident in their behaviors both on and off the court.
There is an economic component to these tournaments and Wimbledon’s prize money this year totals £31.6 million with £2,200,000 going to each of men and women’s champions. In fact, there is some debate right now about whether or not someone pulling out early in the first round should be awarded the £35,000 that goes to those entering the tournament regardless how far they advance or how long they play.
I look beyond the actual tennis and the scores to try and understand how the players demonstrate their ability to play whether the odds are in their favor or not; whether they are able to still give it their best even when it appears they are losing; and how they win or lose graciously. The best players appear also to be avid students of the game and understand physics and geometry as well as speed, spin, arc, angle and placement. As in so many other things, the devil is in the details.
Finally, as I watched myself watching the players I discovered that I developed an affinity for one player more than another and it was not always the best or the winner. And sometimes I just enjoyed the match without too much investment in the outcome and admired the skills, attitudes and performance of both players as if they were dancers or musicians providing some of the best entertainment of the season. I hope you might look in on Wimbledon and see what you think.