Monday, July 06, 2009

Lessons from this year's Wimbledon

This year' Wimbledon has seen many records broken and new created. But certain matches brought me some insights into management skills. The other day I was watching the semi final match between Dinara Safina and Venus Williams. For a former World. No. 1, Ms. Williams played a non-sensitive, cool and plain game which unfortunately was not the same for Ms. Safina. I saw the lady desperate, tired and feeling her leadership challenged when facing a former World No. 1. Venus also was wearing a knee-cap, probably due to an injury. Even if Dinara did play some soft games (let me assume for the sake of simple ethics), but when it almost came over her head, why didn't she make use of the situation? In fact I'm much surprised by the way Venus pushed Dinara to chase the ball around the court, despite her discomfort/injury. And a World No. 1 has to concede her game in just two straight sets, less than an hour? That's pathetic. I just did some soul-searching about this: why did Dinara have to lose?

I took a different view later: what made Venus win? Apart from just what I saw on screen, I just checked the statistics of the game again, and have some clear answers. Venus has only 1 unforced error in her account compared to Dinara's 16. Also Dinara wasn't able to convert any of her break points to success (0%) as compared to Venus' five (100%). These are just some of the key numbers. Also watching them play, I found Venus more calm and composed with a non-sensitive face (no anger, no desperation, just plain looks) compared to Dinara whose looks reveals that she's dying hard to defend her No.1 status. This desperation and anxiety made her make more mistakes than expected. And honestly, that's what made Venus reach her target easily.

On Sunday, the scene was reversed in the Men's singles, though with some remarkable differences. It was Federer who had more errors to his account. And the crowd cheered much for Andy Roddick. It was a great match. Except for the break point conversions and the number of aces served, the statistics of both players look similar. But on screen it seemed to me as if Federer has almost lost the match, the same way it happened last year. And to me personally, it was a little uncomfortable to see Federer making no conscious effort to break Roddick's serves. Add to it the small blunders he did with his forehand and the tiny little pick-ups he did which made Roddick leap too much and fall down many times, the match was spectacular but with no imminent direction. Where the match was heading was a wild guess. A marathon match of four hours and a half must have been boring, except for these errors and spectacular shots.

Here also I asked the same question. What made Federer win this near impossible match? Well, I also don't have any direct and clear answers to this question. My twitter box was filled with comments from different people expressing of desperation, relief and disbelief about the outcome of the match, a few minutes after the conclusion. Lots of people feel that the match was perfectly in Roddick's hands, but destiny had it otherwise. But the length of the match...I feel it might be Federer's strategy to keep it going on and on especially given the fact that Roddick is "not used to playing five-setters" according to the TV commentator. And the last few sets (12 onwards) I felt a change in Federer's plight. Suddenly he became more aware, his moves more aggressive and thoughtful. In fact when I see him cheer himself after winning a set, for a moment I was surprised. But there wasn't any trace of desperation in Federer's face. It seems that he was only aware of what he's doing. These are certain traits for today's managers.

Be aware of the situation and make the best use of it. Safina couldn't take advantage of Williams' limited mobility. Williams used it to her full ability in forcing Safina around the ball in court in different directions. Federer knew that Roddick isn't much used to five-setter matches. So he made a match virtually equivalent of an eight-setter. Otherwise, there's no hope that he can counter Roddick's efforts to overpower him.

Don't give up hope. There's always light at the end of the tunnel. In Federer's case this was true. It seemed that he almost lost the match. But he found a hairline opportunity and made full use of it and therefore was able to conclude a successful match. Safina lost her cool, was not mentally at peace with herself. This added to the errors she made and no wonder Williams made full use of this opportunity to jump into yet another Wimbledon finals. Overall this year's tournament was exciting as it used to be every year.

Photo credit: Reuters