When Roger Federer won a record 18th Grand Slam last week, he was asked in a post-match interview what he thought was the reason for him beating his greatest rival Rafael Nadal in an epic Australian Open final. Going into the match, Nadal had been the favourite to win with a 23-12 head-to-head against Federer. No denying that the Spanish warrior is – or at least was – the only player to un-pick Federer’s flawless game and get inside his head. He’d done it many times before and it was expected that history would repeat itself in Melbourne.
Was his characteristic aggression the reason? No. His trademark attacking play at the net? No again. It was something that no-one expected him to say: patience. Over a five-set battle lasting almost four hours, his greatest opportunity to win a Slam was slowly diminishing before him, yet patience on court was the single most important weapon in Federer’s bag. Not just during the match, but after five long years of a Grand Slam drought, patience – alongside a ‘nothing to lose’ mindset – was handsomely rewarded.
“I told myself to play free,” said Federer afterwards. “You play the ball, you don’t play the opponent. Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it.”
Federer is a true embodiment of that old chestnut: if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. We mere mortals can learn from this, but after all, Federer is only human too. Where he’s won, he’s lost. Where he’s tried and fought, he’s failed and fallen. Where he’s been revered he’s also been written off. He waited. He tried again and waited some more. It finally paid off.
He realised the key to his success was patience. Perhaps we need to not only realise this in overcoming our own failures in our quest for success but also re-discover its true meaning. I stumbled upon a really insightful blog here which I think resonates with a lot of us as we try and deal with the fast pace of modern life. In particular, technology – as brilliantly efficient and convenient as it is – has depleted our patience levels. We want everything to happen in an instant. We expect results now. When a video on YouTube buffers or Wi-Fi has dropped, we become frustrated and impatient. We’re in grave danger of losing this key ingredient to success, which can only have a detrimental effect on our own goals and dreams.
Nonetheless, it’s never too late to understand the true value – and ultimate reward – that patience can bring us. Just ask Roger Federer.