Learning the hard way

Nadal-defeats-Dimitrov-Shanghai-2017

It may be that someday when Grigor Dimitrov looks back on his career, Rafael Nadal will be the player that pushed him to discover the best within him.  These two have met three times this season in arguably three of the best matches played.  Nadal has come away with the victory every time.  Grigor Dimitrov has always taken home the lessons.  They haven’t been easy ones.  How do you give everything you’ve got three times against the same player, and still come up short?

On one hand, that question only reinforces the greatness of Rafael Nadal.  On the other hand, it also sheds more light on exactly what that greatness is.  We operate in a world which keeps telling us that if we give our best, someday the tables will turn and our best will be good enough to take us to the next level.  It also teaches us to apply that rule to everyone around us.  One day, somebody else will turn the tables against you and so the roll dice continues.  Who will throw a six next?  Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to greatness.  The greats ensure they are the ones throwing sixes more times than not.  How do they do this?  By aiming for the six everytime.  The law of probability states that there exists the possible outcome of them not throwing a six – Dimitrov has one victory against Nadal.  However, Nadal, like a true great, just notched up his tenth victory against Dimitrov.

This enormous problem extends beyond Nadal and Dimitrov of course.  Dimitrov embodies the young star trying to solidify his place among tennis’s stratosphere.  Nadal represents the aging royalty who will not be easily usurped.  For Dimitrov to truly turn the tables on Nadal, he has to look no further than Nadal for an example.  Nadal burst onto the tennis scene with no fear of any established player, in his heart.  He respected them, but he never feared them.  Respect was a good trait to have.  It allowed him to acknowledge his far more experienced opponents’ greatness and realize that nothing less than his best would be good enough to beat them, each and every time they faced off.  With that knowledge, the game plan was simple enough.  Play your heart out or else, you will lose.  Fearlessness, was a phenomenal trait to have, for it solved the rest of the equation for Nadal.  You see, with greats, you can play your heart out and still lose… every time.  This is what Dimitrov must realize after this third shattering loss.  Remember, a great player aims to throw a six, every time.  So, even when the match is close and it looks like defeat will be their lot, they find a way to elevate their game just that little bit above their opponent’s, when it really matters.  Nadal knows this very well.  Fearlessness allows him to do that.

If you are reading this and wondering if I am insinuating that Dimitrov is afraid then my response is… yes.  This isn’t a tactical problem for Dimitrov.  If it was, every match would be a blowout.  When you can push your opponent to the brink three times and still lose, then something more abstract is the problem.  Moreover, that something lies at the brink, for that is where the problem spins into existence for all to see.  Dimitrov chases Nadal down and tackles him.  He really does.  However, when he looks up and sees the finish line, he tenses up.  The questions come in and with that the doubting voices.  That is all Nadal needs to finish him up.  Until he can erase the fear of losing, he’ll never truly enjoy winning the way all the greats do.  Not being afraid to lose doesn’t mean one more readily accepts a loss.  It just means that losing is not an option for them so why fear what doesn’t exist in their mind?

This, for me, is the last lesson Grigor Dimitrov needs to learn.  So far, Nadal has been a ruthless teacher.  If Dimitrov responds positively, it will serve him well for the rest of his career.

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