Two years ago, the critics were unanimous: Roger Federer was the greatest tennis player who had ever lived. John McEnroe said so. Pete Sampras said so. Federer’s clobbered opponents said so. Even Rafael Nadal, the perennial No. 2 said so…while quietly and persistently implementing his plan to take Federer down.
And now he’s done it.
After five years of relentless focus on improving his weaknesses and exploiting Federer’s, Rafael Nadal is now, quite simply, the better tennis player. Now, as S.L. Price notes in an excellent analysis of this brutal takedown, it’s hard to call Federer the best player in history when he’s not even the best player of his generation.
Price’s article is a must-read for anyone who has watched this story develop. But there are also more general business lessons here.
How did Nadal take down Federer?
- He identified weaknesses that he had a particular ability to exploit. Federer’s main weaknesses are his one-handed backhand, which breaks down on high, heavy (spin) balls, and a competitive psyche that is so accustomed to winning that he sometimes rolls over when things aren’t going his way. Nadal’s major strengths, meanwhile, are a forehand perfectly designed to attack that backhand and a pysche so used to fighting that he never, ever quits.
- He focused intently on improving his own weaknesses.
How did Federer respond?
- By stubbornly refusing to do anything differently, on the assumption that what won him 13 Grand Slams was good enough (which, until Nadal came along, it was).
So what are the business lessons?
- Everyone can be beat. You have to find a weakness that plays into your strengths (The weakness doesn’t do any good if you can’t attack it.)
- If you want to stay No. 1, you’ll need to keep getting better forever. The moment you stop, you leave room for a Rafael Nadal. Remember how many times Tiger Woods has rebuilt his swing? Federer needs to do the same thing with his backhand. By now, however, it’s probably too late.
- Play a long game. Taking down a competitor like Federer will likely take years. Accept that. Plan for it. Be patient. Make adjustments as you go. Never quit.
Read The Takedown >
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