July 22, 2014
UPDATE: Five years ago, I wrote a blog about Novak Djokovic after he beat Roger Federer in the men’s Wimbledon final. He had blown a big lead in the fourth set and had to come back to win. At the time, he spoke about mental toughness and self talk. Well, 2019’s Wimbledon men’s final was the same two men and they put on quite the show. I wanted to update this blog as Djokovic, nicknamed “the joker” and Federer made history again. In interviews afterward, “the joker” once again spoke about how important your mindsest and outlook determines what happens to you when you are faced with adversity.
Djokovic saved two match points in the final, which denied Federer the storybook ending he wanted so badly to get his 21st major tennis slam. Federer is 38 and has four more major titles than Djokovic, but time is on the joker’s side as he is only 32.
For five hours, these two titans went back and forth. Novak won the first and third sets by tiebreakers. Federer won the second and fourth sets easily 6-1 and 6-4. In the decisive fifth set, Novak pulled out the win 13-12 (7-3 tiebreaker) — the first tiebreaker used to decide a Wimbledon final.
Djokovic had pulled off comebacks like this before, but not with the same calm demeanor seen this time. His face was that of confidence and poise. He wasn’t playing his best tennis, but his mental game was on point.
Time after time, he made up for physical mistakes with his mental toughness and ability to bounce back at key moments in the match.
When asked about how he stayed in the match and was able to respond, Djokovic said, “We spoke about the power of visualization and preparing yourself for possible scenarios. I obviously try to play the match in my mind before I go on the court and I probably couldn’t play this kind of scenario, but I always try to imagine myself as the winner and there’s a power to that.”
Adding to the drama was that the crowd heavily wanted Federer to win. The cheers after winners were far bigger for Federer in this match.
After pulling out the win, Djokovic said he couldn’t control how well Federer played, but he could improve his chances by doing a few things.
“One thing that doesn’t depend on him is how I will behave, how focused I will be,” Djokovic said. “That’s something that I made as a sort of promise to deal with myself. I will not under no circumstances lose that concentration, even though it happens a few times. You get frustrated, but generally I was quite calm all the way though.”
Both players knew the historical significance of the match. It was Novak’s second straight title at Wimbldeon, giving him five all-time.
“I’m feeling huge relief,” Djokovic said. “It’s constant pressure playing against arguably the greatest of all-time in his garden. Five hours of constant pressure, and he was dominating most of the match, the play from the back of the court. He was the one mixing up the pace. I was just trying to fight and find a way. When the opportunities were presented, when it mattered the most I managed to find the best game.”
Now, here’s my favorite part. Djokovic said he had decided in his mind that he would win the match before he even struck a ball.
“I learned that if you truly make something very important in your mind and dedicate yourself to it, whatever it is, regardless of the circumstances you can achieve what you previously agreed with yourself,” Djokovic said. “That’s something I am the most proud of today, the mental strength and the ability to find a way to win this kind of match even though I was two match points down.”
I love that kind of thinking and mindset. What if we all decided something was going to happen before we even set out to do it? Can you take your belief level that high? Can you think about winning something before you even have the opportunity to do so?
I encourage you to start talking like Djokovic. Decide that you can do something no matter what. If you do that, when you hit a bump in the road you will mentally be more prepared to face it head on.
Back in 2014, here’s what I wrote about the joker …
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, forcing 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.