Roger Federer was upset by Hubert Hurkacz today in the Wimbledon 2021 Quarterfinals. He still made it to the second week of the championships at the ripe old age of 39. He continues to push the envelope and while many of his fans may be disappointed lets not forget what made Federer one of the greatest (the greatest according to most) in the first place. That’s the aim of this article to dissect what made Federer great and how he continues to compete in-spite of the odds. I still want to recap Federer’s achievements to put this loss in perspective.

Roger Federer beat Marin Cilic in a five set thriller to win the Australian Open 2018 which was his 20th grand slam victory. This was nothing short of sensational especially considering that Federer was considered to be at the twilight of his career. Well the twilight is something only tennis pundits speak about whereas Federer is taking the game to new levels which is unfathomable. He is getting better with age in a game where the young used to rule the roost.

Federer knows when to step up and he has a knack of overcoming failures quickly and I won’t be surprised if he puts this loss behind him. I believe that is the Champion Mindset. Let’s face it all of us will lose or encounter failure but what separates the champions from the rest is the way they ultimately respond to the negative event. If like Federer we keep looking to the future with possibilities, then we can overcome any failure and this is the key to develop the mindset of a champion.

On the topic of mindset, it was interesting to read what was written in the Power of Habit (a wonderful book) by Charles Duhigg. He wrote about Bob Bowman who was the coach of Michael Phelps. Bob mentioned that he didn’t need to control every aspect of Phelps’s life and all he needed to do was to target a few specific habits that had nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with creating the right mindset. 

Bob Bowman designed a series of behaviors that Phelps could use to become calm and focused before every race, to find those tiny advantages that, in a sport where a victory can come in milliseconds, would make all the difference. What we need to learn from this is that it is the mindset that ultimately distinguishes a champion more than the skill set. 

The sport of tennis is so amazingly competitive that when Pete Sampras retired in 2002 most people thought that his record of 14 Grand Slams would not be broken in his lifetime. In less than 16 years Federer had managed to achieve that. Federer won his first Grand Slam title in 2003 and since then he has not looked back leaving his rivals gasping in admiration and awe.

Most people in recent years have been saying Federer is on the wane. Well even if he is not at his best he always reaches the second week of a championship as has been proven in this year’s championships as well. He has the record of having reached 36 straight quarterfinals and so many semifinals that I have lost count. Sampras even in his prime sometimes has lost in the early round (Nadal has also lost in the early rounds quite a few times) but Federer has made consistency and resilience his middle name.

The following are the 6 best attributes that I have identified which describe Federer and ones that I believe can help all of us in our careers.

  1. Passion – His love of the sport is amazing. He has achieved it all but still wants to win more. He is already considered the greatest player of all time but he still wants to go further and keep trying. This can be only due to his undying passion for the game and its wonderful history. When he looks back at his career he will surely realize that staying at the top for such a long time is his greatest achievement.                                                           
  2. Self-Drive – He keeps pushing himself to explore new frontiers which others can only dream of. Most people get satisfied after reaching a summit. Having already won 8 titles at Wimbledon he still wanted to go further this time than anyone has gone and reach where possibly no one can. He sets his own standards and pays scant attention to the doomsayers who had written his tennis obituary. The key is to set standards for yourself and do what other people say you cannot do.                                                           
  3. Humility and Grace – Even after his enormous victories he said players cannot be compared across eras even though many experts are now saying he is the best of all time. The key to humility is the knowledge that there will always be someone else who might very well break the record. What separates Federer from the rest is that he makes his victories look so easy that we might actually think he is gifted and it comes naturally. However behind this exterior is a story of determination, hard work and perseverance which has kept him at the top of the tennis world for well over a decade.                                                           
  4. Self-Discipline – He has not been injured except for a few months in his entire career. That is almost unheard of in professional tennis. This goes to show his self-discipline in maintaining high levels of fitness throughout his career. Now a lot of people including me have argued that in 2003 when Federer started his success journey his competition was mainly Hewitt and Roddick both of whom were not in his league. I actually think that it is all the more amazing that Federer kept on going despite the competition. He just wanted to do well in spite of his competition. He has also taken care of his body better than anyone else who has played the game. Self-Discipline is the key to Federer’s long term consistent success and he is the embodiment of relentless practice. He only concentrated on his core genius which is playing tennis and didn’t try to do many things at the same time.                                                      
  5. Consistency – This is the true hallmark of Federer and his genius. He had reached 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals, 36 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals, and has been injury free due to which he always makes it to the second week of a championship nearly every time. He has been Number One longer than any player in History. This is nothing short of miraculous. I think it is difficult to fathom that he has reached more than 30 appearances in a Grand Slam final winning 20 of them. The consistency that he has demonstrated over the course of a decade is the true hallmark of a genius champion. He is relentless, passionate and does not ever leave the sight of his summit.
  6. Trusting Mindset – In Over Achievement peak performance expert John Eliot says champions have what is called a trusting mindset vs training mindset. Training mindset is what all of us know it is to do lists, practicing and many other activities in preparation. However I think Federer has something others don’t have which is the trusting mindset. This is where they are totally unhinged about the situation and go by instinct. Lets say you are in a situation where your practice has not been all that great however in real game time you trust in your abilities and bring out your best when it matters most. That is what a trusting mindset is. It is producing your best and believing that you will win irrespective of your preparation. Federer seems to have this in abundance and that’s why he can last far longer than his peers. Go with a trusting mindset and you will win more.

Considering the fact that Nadal and Djokovic were equally good, most people thought Federer may not be able to dominate like he once did. The fact that he continues to maintain that hunger and drive is truly remarkable and is the true winner’s edge.

I personally hope he continues to play for some more time and provide more joy to the tennis fans worldwide. I don’t think it matters if he wins more Grand Slam titles but what matters more is the example he has set not only for the tennis world but the world at large on what one man can achieve with the mindset of a champion.

The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.