Federer: Mind of a Champion

I’ll leave it to the psychologists to tell me whether this is the Looking Glass Self, the Generalized Other, or something else completely, but I do know this: What You Say About Others Says a Lot About You

“Your perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality,” says Dustin Wood, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest and lead author of the study, about his findings.

There’s a point, so stick with me here. A little over 3 weeks ago, when the buzz coming from Roland Garros was much the same as today’s buzz from Wimbledon, i.e., Federer rallied to win after dropping the first two sets, I found it telling what Roger Federer had to say about Juan Martin del Potro (Sports Illustrated):

Federer also fashioned a come-from-behind victory, and while he never was confronted with a match point, he did drop the first two sets before getting past No. 9 Juan Martin del Potro 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3.

After taking that big lead, del Potro – who upset Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final – appeared to be hampered increasingly by a left knee that was heavily wrapped in white tape, although he refused to place any blame there afterward.

“He called the trainer, but he didn’t take a timeout, so I didn’t know what they were talking about, if he got painkillers, or what happened. So I was just trying to focus on me, really, because I was in trouble. He wasn’t,” said Federer, who won his only French Open title in 2009.

“Maybe his knee was (a problem). I don’t know,” Federer continued. “But doesn’t matter how bad that knee is. Maybe he can just sit on it and just say, `OK, here, take the two next sets … and then I’ll come back in the fifth set and I will destroy you.

I will destroy you.” Federer said that. He said it as a proxy for del Potro, but we already know that What You Say About Others Says a Lot About You.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s really going on in Fed’s head. The calm, graceful, gracious (in multiple languages) exterior we see masks a ruthless warrior lurking just below the surface. Just add a big match and/or big pressure, and *presto*, instant clutch.

Federer, warrior that he is, continues to create opportunities for the rest of us to marvel at his mental toughness, and what he did today on Center Court, in his match against Julien Benneteau, was no exception.

Yes, he’s not quite the same Federer that dominated for most of 2005-2007, but what he lacks now in outright dominance and sheer unbelievability of play, he’s making up for with ridiculously effective serving, tennis-wits, match toughness, and outright desire to win. Then again, we’ve seen this before as well. Recall Roddick’s comments after his loss to Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final:

“You didn’t get a sense that he was even really frustrated by it. He kind of stayed the course and just toughed it out. He gets a lot of credit for a lot of things, but not a lot of the time is how many matches he kind of digs deep and toughs out. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for that because it looks easy for him a lot of the time. But he definitely stuck in there today.”

I bet Julien would think that sounds awfully familiar.

I like these wins better than those in the good ol’ days. He’s having to work harder for them now, but at the end of the day, he still knows how to get it done. Well done, Roger!

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