After just three days of Wimbledon, chaos has ensued. The biggest stories at The AELTCC are the historic and astronomically unforeseen upsets of two of the most consistent and dominating players in tennis history. Those players being Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. The players that defeated them, none other than 110th ranked Steve Darcis and 116th ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky respectively.
So, how did Darcis and Stakhovsky do it? Players who are not household names unless you obsessively follow the ATP Challenger results somehow made two of the greatest tennis players in history look, dare I say…regular? (And I’m not talking about a high fiber diet)
Before we dive into the proverbial deep end of the pool, let me preface this article by making sure we are clear: it’s important to understand that at the grand slam level, all players are good. There is no “bad” or “undeserving” player and if there was, it would not be Wimbledon but a neighborhood Rec. league match between two hackers on public courts with cracks the size of the San Andreas Fault. Being surprised by upsets in tennis is equivalent to not expecting spicy food when you go to an Indian restaurant called “The Phaal and Vindaloo Overload House”. The problem is players like Federer and Nadal, who have been impervious to such defeats happened to be the first to go.
So, what is the secret weapon that Darcis and Stakhovsky used to make the entire tennis world gasp? It’s called “BELIEF”
According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines belief as: A state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing. If you listen to the post match interviews and press conferences, both Darcis and Stakhovsky used the word “Belief” more than once. They also exemplified this in their games throughout the match. Trusting in their game plans from the first point to the last.
It’s easy to say “believe in yourself” while you are playing. But under the circumstances of facing these formidable players and in front of a tennis watching world that didn’t just expect, but simply knew they were going to lose, they still had that “Belief”. Belief in themselves and belief in the possibility. Steve Darcis, after upsetting Nadal said “I really wanted to do something today. You know, if you go on the court, if you try to have fun, it’s not the good point. So I really try to fight. I knew I could have a chance if I play a good match. That’s what happened today.”
So many players before them, and at all levels, try in various ways to increase self-belief. They find coaches that tell them how talented and great they are. They meditate about winning, thinking over and over, “I am going to win. I am going to win.” It doesn’t help.
They visualize winning, picturing in their mind’s eye hitting great shots past helpless opponents. It momentarily feels good, but on court harsh reality sets back in quickly. Or they try positive self talk. “I am powerful. My forehand is great. My serve is devastating.” Unfortunately, they still have to perform, and it proves no easier. In the end the highly-ranked, scary opponent remains as scary as ever.
Steve Darcis and Sergiy Stakhovsky knew they could only control the way they played. But unlike many players who are overwhelmed by knowing they have to play their best to win, these two men found it within themselves to believe that as long as they execute to the best of their abilities, their opponents, no matter how many grand slam titles, endorsement deals and facebook fan pages they have, must react to them. The belief to play your game, stay within your game plan, and have belief that if the chips fall, if you do everything in your power, anything is possible. The question of victory or defeat in a tennis match is always a matter of probabilities, not certainties. Darcis and Stakhovsky always believed there was a chance!
Belief is the same as self-confidence. Darcis and Stakhovsky, although having no legitimate, (according to oddsmakers) snowball’s chance in hell to win, they knew their games, if firing on all cylinders, is capable of giving any player a hard time. Even the greatest players. These players did more than show up on court, enjoy their 15 minutes of fame, put up a respectable but clearly not up to the standard of ‘Greatness’ performance, shake hands with the already acknowledged winner, then wave to the Wimbledon crowd and shuffle off to that dark and mysterious place known as oblivion. They made their match count. Every point, every game, every set. And win they won their 1st point of the match, they built on it to win a game. When they won their first game of the match they built on it and won several games. When they won several games they built on it and won a set. Suddenly, The mystique was gone and Darcis and Stakhovsky quickly realized that with their games firing on all cylinders and the harsh realization that Nadal and Federer were just two tennis players much like Darcis and Stakhovsky. They put their shoes on similar to their opponents. They probably put their shorts on very similar as well. Suddenly, the balance of power and belief shifted from the obligatory “worthy early round opponent” to an “upset special”. Darcis added “you play tennis to play those matches on big courts, full stadium, against unbelievable players. So I enjoy it from the first point to the end”.
Walking on court knowing your opponent is good or great is a sign of respect. Walking on court knowing your opponent will beat you is a losing attitude. Those who have played sports know 100% effort is not only admirable, it’s expected. With belief, reaching this level is much easier and makes you capable of incredible things. Steve Darcis and Sergiy Stakhovsky achieved incredible things this week. Because they believed.
Thanks For Reading.
Kyle LaCroix @TennisTycoon