From what we are seeing, the new generation of champions, in many respects, is struggling to emulate the deeds of the Big Three: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. This struggle is visible in their behaviour on the court, and in their ability to manage frustration.
For me, the theme is fundamental. It is not enough to play well to be the world no. 1: it is also necessary – I dare say above all – to acquire the ability to face the right moments. A highly symbolic match, in this regard, was the Rafa Nadal-Daniil Medvedev match at the last ATP Finals’ match, in London.
Medvedev led 5 to 1 in the third set, on Nadal's service, he had a match point. Thanks to a nice short ball and his character, Nadal took the game home. The Russian still led 5 to 2 with two break points. Yet, he lost the game, he changed the tone of the match by turning ironic and making disrespectful gestures to his corner, as if to congratulate them for the bad work and the bad advice given to him before the match.
On the contrary, Nadal, despite being clearly at a disadvantage, went to sit on his chair with fast steps, to take advantage of the time at his disposal, recover energy and keep his thoughts in order. Watching the match, my first thought was that, with such an attitude, the Russian risked losing the game.
The prediction was less risky than it seemed. Overwhelmed by the evident frustration (for what?), Medvedev – whose face appeared deformed by an ironic, bitter smile – continued to complain, mocking his corner with dramatic satisfaction and losing the game.
Across the field, Nadal encouraged himself, which, importantly, he never stopped doing. Not even when trailing 5 to 1 against his opponent. After finding himself, in a few minutes, at 5-6 and 0-30 on his service, with a stroke off his lower back caused more by anger than by a real reaction, the Russian tennis player reached the tie-break.
At that point, however, the inertia of the game had changed. Nadal did not miss claiming his victory. What was the moral? Before that with the blows, Nadal won that game with character, that is, by knowing how to accept the difficulties and fight them, when everything seemed lost.
Medvedev, on the other hand, lost because he was unable to overcome the frustration of a match point that had faded on the opponent's service, and took it right up to the final handshake. As the old (so to speak) champions know very well, knowing how to behave is not only a matter of education – which, for those who are taken as an example by thousands and thousands of kids, should have its importance – but also of professionalism and efficacy.
In partial defence of Medvedev: having a good attitude is one of the most telling things in the game of tennis and that which must be trained. An extraordinary technique or a great athletic condition is of little use if one crumbles in the face of difficulties.