Without a good comeback there is no epic that is worth and epic, precisely, this weekend has been left over. The final that faced Djokovic and Tsitsipás in Paris is a typical case study (which is not common for that reason) of what it entails come back against a rival in an (apparent) state of grace. What mechanisms were crossed in the minds of one athlete and another to make the game turn like a sock?
Somewhat saddened by the defeat of Nadal in the semifinals, fortune smiled at the spectators who saw two different games in the same final. The one who scored Tsitsipás in the first two sets and brought him closer to being crowned king of clay or the one who it restored Djokovic as the unbalancing and infallible tennis player that he is, when he conjures up for that.
Because the Serbian does not want to get off the hook or lose the opportunity to snatch from Nadal and Federer their personal dispute for being the tennis player with the most Grand Slam tournaments in his possession (now he has 19).
For this, in his comeback, as often happens, there was a turning point. A few minutes in which the miracle was worked. The comeback seed required more than just physical rest: a real change of mentality that started, like so many, in the dressing room. “Suddenly he has left and a new player has entered,” Tsitsipás himself explained at a press conference.
Maybe it was the same player, but on the court Djokovik was lighter. He had put stress aside. The same stress with which the Greek would begin to play. As if they had exchanged suits.
What is stress? Stress is the process that is set in motion when a person perceives a situation or event as threatening or overflowing with their resources and demands an extra effort from the individual. Surprisingly, the stress went from a Djokovic defeated in the second set, to a Tsitsipás threatened with losing what he had practically already won.
Within this process of change that stress implies, anxiety is the most frequent emotional reaction. And fears, founded or imagined, act like a fire that ignites and spreads both stress and anxiety very quickly.
Something similar happened in the final that faced Barça against Real Madrid and that the white team practically dominated until the third quarter. There was a change, although in the Wizink Center it was present in human form: that of Cory Higgins. When the whites began to falter, the player threw back the Barça comeback that would soon find a co-pilot in the experienced figure of Gasol, who returned to the ACB after 20 years of absence.
It is not easy to manage stress when the result is against: but it is possible to transform that pressure into a destabilizing weapon against a rival whose excess of confidence makes him lose concentration, precisely. If optimal performance depends on a calm mind, that means we have to see how and what to focus it on.
They say that relaxed concentration (which is not stressed or stressed concentration) is the supreme art because no art can be mastered without it, while many things can be achieved with it. It is because the concentrated mind only grasps those aspects of the situation that are necessary to carry out the task. A concentrated mind is not distracted by other external thoughts or events, but is absorbed in what matters in the here and now, in the present moment, flowing. Djokovic and Higgins, each in their comeback, were a clear example. They had the ability to calm the negative emotions generated by the provisional defeat.
Being able to manage stress is not overnight. It takes a lot of work, perhaps not in quantity, but in time. Meditation is a very good tool. Maybe was the key to Djokovic’s transformation into that other ‘player’ identified by his rival after leaving the locker room. We do not know if he meditated or not, but the Serbian did conjure up in concentration to deactivate the Greek.
Along with meditation, relaxation and visualization are other key techniques in any comeback. All with a common denominator and objective: increasing concentration and, therefore, potential. For any athlete or team that needs to learn to manage emotions and keep sabotaging thoughts at bay in competition, I have created a specific Sports Mindfulness Online program with which I have helped many athletes to focus their energy, regain the feeling of enjoyment, compete safely and turn a negative result by applying a 100% comeback mentality. Do you want to take a look?