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The Richard Lee column: The Federer v Nadal effect

It was the summer of 2008 and I, like millions of others, sat back on a Sunday evening and watched two of the best tennis players ever to have graced this planet fight it out to be crowned Wimbledon champion: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The game itself was immense but I personally got more from watching that than anything for a long time.

The intensity of the two players was there to be seen; both seemed incredibly calm under the severest of pressure.

They were a fine example to sports men and women around the world. By watching, I got the impression that it was almost irrelevant as to what the score was, they just seemed to play each point on its merit with very little care or regard as to whether a mistake would mean a game lost.

What I guess I’m trying to say is that they gave the impression that they were playing without fear.

For anyone who’s played tennis they’ll understand what I mean when I say that you adapt your game to the circumstances you are faced with. For instance, if you're 30-40 down then it’s vital you keep the ball in court, for fear that one mistake and the game is over and it can be common to cramp up and not play the way you want to play.

Carry on regardless

This seemed to matter little during this match. On a few occasions, Federer had ‘championship point’ against him and he just continued to try and make shots without much regard for the situation he faced - and the same could be said for the eventual winner Rafael Nadal.

I then thought of the idea of applying this to all sports; football for instance. A team goes one-nil up and then decide to sit back and invite pressure.

I understand that many tactics come into play but there can be a shift of mindset from the idea that ‘we want to score a goal’ to ‘we want to protect what we have’.

This can be a dangerous mindset as it will often mean that the team in front will have little in terms of attacking power and are vulnerable to a mistake or good play from the opposition that may result in an equaliser.

What if a team decided that they would pay no attention to the score and just play the game for 90-plus minutes and continue to do as many positive things as they could for that time, whether they were 5-0 up or 5-0 down?

Golf could be another example. Back in the summer of 2008, when Nadal and Federer were slugging it out in one of the best Wimbledon finals of all time, Tiger Woods was the world's most dominant golfer. Why was he so much better than the rest for so many years? Why did he always perform well under pressure? My belief is that thanks to plenty of mental training, he had the ability to clear all else from his mind except the desired outcome he wants. Things have changed a bit for him since then of course but he's on his way back, because he still has the belief.

Positive thinking without fear

For instance, let's say Woods is faced with a Par 3, water to the left, bunker to the right and out of bounds over the back of the green. I believe these thoughts wouldn’t enter his head, it would simply be a case of where the flag is and how close can he get to it. Positive thinking without fear is a great combination and one that many successful people have in common.

I realise that a few of my discussion points have been on the subject of psychology and how a good mindset can help you in all walks of life - but different examples keep cropping up, each of which I try to take a lesson from.

I have my own personal goals regarding my football career and I truly believe by watching the best do what they do I can use it to improve my mindset and, ultimately, my performance.

It was sad that someone had to lose the Wimbledon final because in truth there was very little between the two competitors but, right to the end, both showed class.

In the post-match interviews, Federer was gracious in defeat and Nadal heaped praise on Federer, saying that he’d beaten the best of all-time. No hate, just appreciation for each other and the situation they both find themselves in.

For me it was fantastic entertainment and a fine example to all involved in sport.

By Richard Lee, Brentford goalkeeper


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