Roger, Rafa, Serena, Venus. Form is temporary, class is permanent

January 28, 2017

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The Australian Open singles finals became the sporting event of the year when four of the greatest tennis players of their generation faced off for the titles

January 2017: Melbourne Australia. Four great tennis players have battled to reach the finals. None had started the tournament as top seed. The tennis tensions are palpable.

All four have shown astonishing resilience against younger and arguably fitter opponents. It was all the more unusual because all four had been written off before the tournament on grounds of injury, Ill-health, and advancing years.

Andy and Novak battle for top seed

In the men’s game, for nearly a year Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic had been fighting for top dog (or top seed, as they prefer to say in tennis.) Roger and Rafa were left behind.

Roger, after a career of injury-free successes had succumbed to the perils of fatherhood, namely prepared his twins for their bath, and severely damaging his back when turning the tap on. (I couldn’t have written that in a fictional account).

Rafa after an equally-illustrious career but one blighted with injuries was recovering from his latest injury time-out. His appearances now reveal residual damage to knees, legs, fingers (ugh, particularly unpleasant looking.)

Recently they met to share medical reports, dreaming of one day when they might be both fit enough to limp on to court for one last public match.

Serena versus Venus

In the women’s game, the Williams systers had already become medical phenomena with debilitating conditions which has not prevented them from collecting multiple titles individually and just for fun as a devastating doubles partnership.

The younger sister Serena became by far the strongest and most talented and winningest woman player of her generation. Venus, by comparison Spiderwoman to Serena’s Superwoman, would also hold more singles titles (but fewer doubles, probably) if her sister had not been around.

A year ago, Serena reached the pinnacle of her career in the Senena Slam in New York, widely touted as the tournament in which she would be crowned as winner of all four slams in a calander year. Partly through nerves she slipped up. Since then she has won out only on  injury bragging-rights.

However, earlier in the tournament she summoned up her remarkable depths of bouncebackability to sweep past the new British hope Joannah Konta. She is installed as favorite once again.

Age shall nor weary them

Age shall nor weary them. This weekend, the tennis world watches with huge anticipation the battle of the four thirty-something’s. At clubs around the world, the four golden-oldies will be celebrated by millions of mere mortals, some still swinging as the decades slip by.

A tweet from Donald?

Donald Trump used the US Open to launch his political career. He may just find time for a phone-call to Australia or maybe a tweet today.

To be continued

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Fame, wealth, celebrity. What more could a top sportsman want?

June 3, 2016
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

The answer, if you are Novak Djokovic, is the unconditional love lavished on his two great tennis rivals Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal

Read the rest of this entry »


Tennis Matters: I didn’t see the match-fixing

January 27, 2016

Tennis Matters Blue

Tennis is the latest sport to find itself embroiled in a corruption scandal.  It is not the problem that many observers expected
Leaders We Deserve was and still remains a blog about leadership and its implications in business.  Sport remains a useful way of ‘back engineering’ into business leadership.
In recent months sport has provided a wealth of examples of issues of global institutions failing in the most basic tenets of social corporate responsibility.  LWD subscribers will be able to track back to the most recent in athletics and football.
So now for tennis.  Over the last few weeks a story has developed in a rather predictable way.  First, a suggestion that a few low ranked players were involved in match fixing.
All credit to the BBC who can still produce world class reporting from time to time.
Silence from tennis authorities. The story builds
World number one Novak Djokovic speaks out suggesting it is a minor problem, although he was approached to fix a match early in his career.  First time I was awoken from my slumbers.  Novak was reported as dismissing the claims as sheer speculation.  oh, no  Novak.  Better to have stayed shtum.
More reports that the problem is widespread.
I start preparing this post.
Then an announcement that an official enquiry is to take place.
Tennis Matters
I recently self-published Tennis Matters, a little book of personal anecdotes. One seeded participant at the on-going Australian Open was given a copy to read.  It includes updates of several LWD posts.  I was advised by a legal friend to be careful of one of the posts which suggested there might be a drug problem in tennis.  So I listened to him, but there is still a hint of my concerns in Tennis Matters.
What I didn’t see coming 
What I didn’t see coming was a different sort of scandal.  Over the years there have been curious collapses from winning positions. Players have been fined for not trying.  Perhaps I didn’t want to see any suspicions.  I was more interested in the tensions that impair ‘thinking clearly under pressure’
This story has legs
You can find my slightly redacted comments about drugs in tennis in Tennis Matters.  Until I put out a revised version, this post will have to do.  I have a feeling the story deserves the customary not quite final words … Watch out for updates.
To be continued

Murray v Djokovic: Momentum swings are mostly in the emotions of onlookers

January 27, 2013

Australian Open Tennis Final 2013. The commentators talk frequently about momentum swings. Closer inspection suggests this is mostly revealing only of the emotional swings of the observers

Tudor Rickards

One thing trumps even watching the start of the Australian Open Tennis Final. That is an indoor court booked for an hour’s hitting just as the final starts. We trudge though snow. [Yes, this is the UK not Oz]. Others crowd around the TVs in the clubhouse.

Return to clubhouse to learn the match is well-balanced at one set all.

Set three

I learn that Murray has just lost the second set after appearing to be in charge. Calls for medical help on a gory foot blister. Much talk of momentum shift. Monumental effort needed by Murray, says Andrew Castle and John Lloyd on BBC TV. As far as I can see, nothing has ‘swung’. Both players are still serving and returning nervelessly. They seem to be deliberately conserving energies on opponent’s serve, in order to make winning their own service games easier.

At 3-3, the commentators still talking about Murray having to overcome ‘monumental’ disappointment of losing the previous set and having to cope with his blister. Their emotional state builds up as each Murray serve is seen as potential set-loser. Of course, the same applies to Djokovic. Who goes 5-3 up, and then wins third set.

Set four

Murray slightly weary. Drops serve. Djokovic now clearly is stronger physically. Murray loses the close points. Seems to be much more physical decline than evidence of effect of a metaphysical concept such as momentum. The fitter guy prevails. Now the commentators agree that Djokovic won because he played the better tennis, particularly at key points.

Momentum v Momentum Denying

In looking closely at this, I realize that momentum is a difficult to refute concept. As it relies on momentum swings, it is not disproved by a player coming back after losing momentum.

It seems to me that the concept could do with some closer attention. Me, I’ m still a momentum denier.


The answer to the question “what’s the difference between map-reading, map-making and map-testing?”

January 27, 2012

Why is is often difficult to distinguish between conceptual map-reading, map-testing, and map-making? Set theory provides one explanation

Big maps have little maps…

One explanation is that any conceptual map draws on other previously created maps. Sometimes you will find yourself reading a map, which itself indicates some map-testing that had gone on during the map-making. From that starting-point it can be seen that map-reading, map-testing, and map-making are not totally isolated one from the others.

Sets within sets

In set theory, the concept might be examined as overlapping sets (Venn diagrams). This offers hope of isolating out the three ‘pure’ processes, plus various examples of overlaps, including the triple overlap of map-reading, testing, and making.

Recursiveness in systems

A related way of looking at it (another mapping) is through the wider systems notion indicated above of recursiveness. This proposes that systems replicate fundamental aspects of themselves at different levels of system. (Think biological cells, organs, individuals, sub-species etc).

That’s why the question does not have a simple answer

We have two theoretical possibilities suggesting why the question does not have a simple answer.

The good news

The good news is that those same principles can be put to positive use, as you reflect on your own mapping processes. If you believe you are primarily map-making, that’s your map of what you are doing. If you are testing (beliefs), you are map-testing (beliefs). This ‘get out of conceptual goal’ card relies on another powerful map known as the interpretative or sometimes the sense-making map. But that would be the subject for another post

An example from Tennis

I’m ‘reading’ (literally, on my PC) an account of the tennis battle at the Australian Open between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. The score is one set all. The commentators say that Djokovic is fatiguing. That’s their ‘read’ of what’s happening. Someone adds ‘he sometimes appear to be struggling but isn’t’. That’s testing the fatigue idea.

I am noting the evidence that Murray may be having a mid-match slump or nerves. That’s testing another idea.

Djokovic recovers from his apparent fatigue. Does this test conclusively refute the ‘fatigue’ idea? Do we need the more subtle idea of ebbs and flows of energy?

Commentator says: “Whoever wins this set wins the match. That’s not a fact, that’s just what I think might happen”. Notice how the commentator shows awareness of the difference between a fact and a ‘map reading’ of ‘what might happen’.

Djokovic eventually wins a close match lasting nearly five hours. Murray on interview ‘reads’ the experience as evidence he is getting closer to the play of the World No 1 (and to Nos 2 and 3, Nadal and Federer)

Think map-reading as sense making

The Tennis story also shows how conceptual map-reading is rather like examining and making sense of a map.


Murray gets to Cincinnati semis but is he improving?

August 20, 2011

Andy Murray advances to the Semi Finals in the US Open warm-up event in Cincinnati. He believes he is making good progress. But has he made any significant improvement in his play over the last two years? [Opinion piece]

Five years ago there were these two promising young tennis players. Both were seen as likely world No 1s and likely grand slam winners. One fulfilled his potential. The other seems to have stalled.

Novak and Andy

Novak Djokovic progressed to become World No 1, grand slam winner, and favourite to win the US Open. Andy Murray is hanging in there at World No 4, which is still a great achievement, but looking increasingly in need of a quantum leap in play to fulfil his early promise. Few insiders doubt his talent at individual shot-making. He identified a need to get superfit and did something about it. On his day he has beaten the best in the world, including Nadal and Federer (both of whom were knocked out of the Cincinnati Open while Murray progressed to the Semi-finals.

From the bottom of the pile…

As my Tennis Ranking is not No 1, even in my own family. My observations on Murray’s tennis don’t count for much, unless you believe in the merits of a fresh perspective from the bottom of the pile. My professional knowhow is more about the processes through which people reach personal development goals.

Murray tries too hard?

There is one theme within personal development which suggests that you can be over-motivated. So bizarrely, Murray may be trying too hard. His self-abuse remains evident on court. He is too aware when a shot lacks perfection. And when he is not blaming himself his anger gets rechanelled towards his coaching staff (the membership of which changes rather too regularly in comparison to the stability of the Djokowic entourage.

The latest self-help effort

There seemed to be another conscious effort to loosen up in this tournament. Murray comes on court with a smile on his face. But it is a smile which reminds of the sad efforts made by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Gordon was notoriously uncomfortable in the public eye. His body language was poor, as the coaches like to say. Someone hit on the solution. Act confident, Gordon. Show you like it out there. Smile.

But the smile became a grimace of pain

It never really worked for Gordon Brown. The smile became a grimace of pain. If anything it gave comfort to his opponents.

I’m just hoping it will not do the same for Andy Murray.


“Masterminds who give genius a guiding hand” Analysis of top tennis coaches

June 18, 2011

A thoughful examination of coaches of the top four male tennis players suggests their skills involve trust-building and seeking to make marginal changes

Hugh MacDonald writing in the Herald provides an impressive piece of sporting journalism. He stuck to supplying readers with evidence above opinion, in analysing the coaches and their impacts on the big four of Men’s tennis.

They are the best in the world, perhaps the best quartet in world tennis ever. So how can anyone make them better? This is the task facing those who choose to coach Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. They are four different personalities with distinct playing styles, but with the same driving force that demands improvement in their game.

Long-term relationships

Djokovic and Nadal have persisted with a long-term relationship with one coach. ‘Uncle Toni’ has been with Nadal for ever. Djokovic has stuck with Marian Vajda for much of his career. A brief period with the distinguished player coach Todd Martin did not work out. Federer has also stuck with Severin Luethi for some while. He was quoted in the New York Times as saying “We don’t particularly set up and say, ‘let’s do a brainstorming session’, like in business school or something. It’s somewhat more casual. We are in track suits and lounging around and all of a sudden it happens,”

Not so long term

Which brings us to Andy Murray. The snarly Scot seems to need a coach as target for his on-court frustations. Relationships appear to be intense and ephemeral in contrast to the other three players. MacDonald is tactful when he writes:

The most intriguing set-up, however, is situated at the heart of Team Murray. “I have a coach,” was Murray’s brisk answer to enquiries at the French Open about when he intended to appoint a full-time mentor. Murray now has access to Darren Cahill and has Sven Groeneveld in his box. Cahill coached Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi and Groeneveld worked with Federer. The 24-year-old Scot thus has a mine of experience to seam. The approach of player and coach, though, show the relationship is built on trust and then faith. Murray talks of the “stability” the Australian has [recently] brought to his game. He said: “He did not just steam in and say, ‘you need to do this, you need to do that’, and start telling everyone what to do. He spent a few days not really saying very much, but he was figuring everyone out.” Murray added: “He’s someone who has been around big events and who has played at a high level as well so he knows how to deal with things emotionally. He knows how a player feels.”

Do coaches make a difference?

The accounts suggest that they do. Perhaps Murray has been the toughest challenge of the four. Perhaps it is one factor which keeps him behind the others in his ranking and tournament successes.