When I conducted a poll on my Facebook page asking you guys about your opinion regarding the most talented player on the ATP World Tour, it came as no surprise to me when most of you voted Roger Federer as the most talented tennis player.
The available options were
a. Roger Federer b. Rafael Nadal c. Novak Djokovic d. Other e. Is that a trick question?
Is that actually true though or is there a chance that most of you that voted are wrong? Is there a right answer to that question?
Let me give you my answer to this poll question:
e) Is that a trick question?
Yes, it is a trick question. The right answer is that it is very difficult to determine the level of talent of all these players. You know why?
Because a tennis player has not one, but several talents that need to be combined for him to become elite.
Before I continue, let me clarify that if you would ask me this question 10 years ago, I would most certainly also consider Roger Federer as the most talented tennis player.
Up to this day I describe the three players mentioned in the poll in the following way:
Roger Federer = Artist Rafael Nadal = Warrior Novak Djokovic = Complete
Now, the word “artist” itself is associated with talent. In the tennis world, most of the people associate the word “talent” with good hands.
My experiences on the ATP Tour taught me that talent cannot be limited only to ”good hands.” There are so many talents an elite tennis player needs to have; a reality that is sometimes mind-boggling.
When opening a dictionary, under the word “talent” one can find the following definition:
*Talent = natural aptitude or skill*
So, what talents/skills does a tennis player possess, beside the obvious “good hands?”
There is the physical talent.
Some players are naturally faster, stronger, or bigger than others. They are physically built for tennis. Some are bigger in size, others are super fast, and a few have the ability to outlast their opponents when going to distance. Of course, EVERYBODY can work and improve their fitness levels, but regardless of the amount of work one puts in, some will not necessarily reach the level of others who have a “god-given” talent in one specific department and combine that with equal work with the rest. For example, if both put in the same hours of work, Tomas Berdych will never be as quick as Lleyton Hewitt, and Lleyton Hewitt will never be able to hit as hard as Tomas Berdych. Their physical attributes do not allow them to do so.
Now, you may disagree with me, but let me ask you a question. Do you consider sprinters “untalented?” Guess what, their success depends mainly on their speed, and not everyone is born as fast as Usain Bolt. He is more talented than others in that department.
Moreover, tennis requires a series of “talents” related to a player’s mental abilities. It is impossible to cover all of them in here, but I will only mention a few:
Awareness of the situation and decision-making (Chess-playing ability)
Some players are born with the ability to be completely aware of a point situation, know exactly what is happening around them, can already see beforehand what will occur, depending on their shot selections, and based on this awareness make the right or the best decisions on court under the circumstances. They are advanced chess players on a tennis court. Example: How many times have you fallen in the trap of going down the line on the run when you see the down-the-line corner exposed and ending up missing it or hitting a low-quality shot that will result in you losing the point? The best players will make naturally the right choice based on their skills and the situation they are in.
Abilities such as competitiveness, fighting spirit, determination, or the ability to handle pressure
Not all players are equally competitive, determined to do whatever they can to win, or willing to fight until the last point as the best players in the world. Rafael Nadal is the perfect example of a player “unwilling to die.” Furthermore, not everyone can handle pressure moments the same way. I strongly believe that pressure situations can be replicated during training; however, regardless of the training, not all people are naturally gifted at controlling their emotions and remaining as focused as the best players in the world. Some people are naturally more gifted and therefore, with the right training more superior in that department.
Talents such as work-ethic, commitment, discipline
If you believe that work ethic is not a talent, you are mistaken. Some players are investing their entire lives in working for their tennis. They are committed and disciplined to eat, sleep, and train for their tennis and are willing to sacrifice their free hours, their favorite foods, or even their social interactions to be able to focus on their tennis development. How many people do you believe have the mental strength to do so? Do you believe the average professional tennis player is willing to do that? Do not be mistaken. Not everyone is equipped with that type of talent, or let’s say not to the same degree.
Abilities such as belief, patience.
Without a doubt in my mind, belief is a god given talent that not everyone has in equal levels. One of the most important ingredients of the top players’ success is their belief in their abilities. When talking about belief, I mean real belief. Elite players know and believe that they will succeed and therefore, are willing to do anything possible to make it happen. And this is what real belief relies on. If you really believe, you are not afraid to take risks, make sacrifices, and invest your entire life to reach your goal. You know you will succeed one way or another; therefore, you remain patient in the hard, difficult, and disappointing moments that may cross your path. How many people do you know that will give up after a few failures? Many.. How many people do you know that will never give up, regardless of the circumstances? Very few. These few are equipped with superior mental strength that I consider a unique skill or talent.
As you can see, tennis is not a simple sport of hitting tennis balls. I know many professional players with picture-perfect technique that never made it within the top 700 players in the world and others, who some of you would consider “untalented” that made it to the top 100… Tennis requires a combination of talents that need to be coordinated and developed as everything else in life. Simply possessing the various skills or talents is not enough.
As Pete Sampras very wisely quoted: “You need the game, you need the heart, you need the mind.”
Conclusion In my opinion, it is impossible to determine the level of talent of the top players in the world and it is at least unfair to label one of them as more talented than the rest. All of them are uniquely and extraordinary talented and we should feel blessed to be here and witness their brilliance.
I would love to hear your guys’ opinion. Please comment below or on my Facebook page and don’t forget to share this blog with your friends!