It is unlikely the name KEI NISHIKORI rings a bell unless you are an avid tennis fan. But I bet most of you would recognize ROGER FEDERER even if you have never watched a tennis game in your life. The latter has established himself as one of the all time, greatest tennis players. Like most, I had no idea who Kei Nishikori was when I went to the Sony Tennis Open this week. In fact, that was my first live tennis match, ever. I knew I was going to see Federer play, but who he was playing was a mystery. As Nishikori emerged from the back onto the court, the crowd was quiet. Of course, Federer got the complete opposite reaction; thousands of people erupted when he embraced us with his presence and many chanted his name. Nishikori was not fazed. He emerged the victor, and it was Nishikori who advanced to the semi-final round that night after a spectacular and unforgettable performance.
We are often inspired by underdogs; those who are expected to fail before they’ve even started and manage to win! That match was one of those awe-inspiring moments that left me feeling truly impressed. The fact that Federer was the crowd favorite was obvious. After the first set, it appeared the win over Nishikori would be easy – Federer won that set 6-3. Nishikori knew better. Somehow, he was able to block out the noise of a stadium filled with Federer supporters. Nishikori kept his focus, and game after game he became more confident and more powerful. By the middle of the second set, it was clear this guy was a force to reckon with. If you did not know his name before, you knew it that night.
A singles tennis match is unlike other team sports such as basketball or football. As a player, you are on your own out there; you and your thoughts! Neither Federer nor Nishikori had the luxury that night of team members patting them on the back [or butt] to reassure them they could win. Each man had to figure out ways to defeat the other, both mentally and physically. It is the mental aspect that struck me most as I sat in the stadium watching an upset few anticipated. Nishikori was obviously aware he was facing an uphill battle that night. But he stayed resilient and strong and he proved to the world he was a worthy opponent.
We can learn a lot from Kei Nishikori – we can learn to block out the noise around us, stay focused, be confident, and achieve the unexpected. It starts by believing in ourselves!
Until Next Time,