Novak Djokovic had seen this ending before.
Djokovic, a 27-year-old Serb in the prime of his tennis career, had just blown a 5-2 lead and two match points in the fourth set to let Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, force a decisive fifth set in the 2014 Wimbledon men’s tennis final on July 6 in London, England in front of the Queen, Prince William and Kate and millions of people watching around the world.
In three straight previous Grand Slam final appearances, he had been on the wrong side of the outcome. He just blew a 2 sets to 1 lead, but he decided he was going to make sure the script ended differently this time.
How did he do it? Did he have some magic potion in his Gatorade bottle? Did he seek out his world champion tennis coach Boris Becker, winner of six grand slam titles himself, for sage advice that would give him the edge on Federer, the author of 17 Grand Slam titles, that would lift him to the top of the tennis world?
Nope. He went to the bathroom.
Now, it’s not that he went to the bathroom that is important to note here. It’s what he did while he was alone in a stall with thousands packed on Centre Court waiting for him to reappear on the hallowed grass of the sport’s richest championship.
Novak Djokovic gave himself a pep talk or a self-talk.
Seriously? You bet.
He told himself he could do this and would do this. And it worked!
When asked how he got over the hump, he calmly explained how he got his mind right to play the fifth set.
“When I lost the fourth, obviously momentum had shifted to his side,” Djokovic told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “I just needed to refocus and find the right purpose, you know, find that inner strength and last drop of energy and inspiration … try to be in the present moment and be aware of the occasion, be aware of where I am playing in the fifth set of the Wimbledon. You never know what’s going to happen next year, so that’s something that gave me strength. I went to the restroom after dropping the fourth set and had a chat to myself. I was loud to myself saying, ‘believe, believe in yourself,’ just you know it’s not a cliché, it really works even when you don’t feel it at times to say some positive things to yourself … that’s exactly when you should do it.”
At this point, Djokovic, who returned to No. 1 in the world with the victory, told Rinaldi he didn’t mean to sound like a preacher.
“I’m not here to preach about right and wise things, but it just works for me,” Djokovic said. “I’m just full of joy, I mean this moment, it has been a tough ride for me the last couple of years losing the last three Grand Slam finals and it got to my head I have to admit. To be able to win Wimbledon against Roger in five sets is an incredible achievement, so I’ll try to enjoy it now.”
Djokovic closed out the match 6-4 in the fifth after Federer netted a backhand. Djokovic dropped to the grass in joy, shook Federer’s hand and bent over to take a bite of grass before the real celebration began. He joked it was the “best meal of my life.”
For four hours, Djokovic and Federer battled, poured their heart and soul into the match and left blood and sweat and tears on Centre Court. It was a thing of beauty to watch. However, what Djokovic said after the match is what I will remember because it’s the same thing I do with myself all the time.
I speak to myself and say positive things out loud. When you stop listening to yourself and start talking to yourself, then you can change the game. Then, you can win bigger.
There’s a great book on this subject by Shad Helmstetter called, “What To Say When You Talk To Your Self.” I encourage you to pick up a copy of it and read it.
Try a little self-talk today. See if it doesn’t have a positive impact on your life. You don’t have to be on the world’s biggest tennis stage to benefit from using this exercise. Whether in sports, business or life, self-talk works!
When you catch yourself having negative thoughts, change the outcome by giving yourself a pep talk.