The Epitome of Letting Go: Djokovic on Match Point

Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of discussion about “the shot”–Djokovic’s forehand return winner at double match point down a few weeks ago in the Semis of the Open against Federer.

I thought it would be useful to explore this moment in more depth to help all players benefit from this amazing scenario.The truth is there were many converging factors, which is usually the case, that allowed that shot to happen. The first obvious factor that emerged just prior to that game was how the crowd seemed to be hugely behind Federer. Djokovic didn’t like that at all. And he was slipping into a 5th set hole. Like many great competitors, this only fueled Djokovic’s internal fire. Without question, there was eerie an similarity to last year against Federer and certainly this reality was not lost on Djokovic. There are few things as powerful as past results and experience–whether conscious or not, to ignite a sense of belief and/or calm. That said, after a few errors that put him double match point down, with the crowd rooting for Federer, Djokovic, appeared to LET GO. All you need to do is watch a replay of his face, which told the entire story of his internal state. He smirked, he smiled, he completely threw caution to the wind. But, that’s not all of it.

Just a few days ago I ran into Brad Gilbert and I mentioned this match and moment to him to see where he stood given that he was just a hundred feet away in the midst of it. Suprising to me, he practically dismissed Djokovic’s forehand missile and said, “Yeah, but did you see where Federer put that first serve? He rarely misses his spot. But, on that point it sat up and Djokovic was all over it.”

Certainly, that serve was not Federer’s best in retrospect, but it was not a sitting duck either. But, at this level of the game, it was a factor nonetheless. It’s all relative.

Nevertheless, there are few people on the planet, including Rod Laver-he also found it helpful to hit the ball even harder when he felt tense–that would have expected Djokovic’s reply, especially in THAT situation. For most of us, that situation would have created an internal state very different than the one Djokovic was able to ACCESS.

Djokovic acknowledged when asked about “the shot” what he was thinking. “I was very close to being on my way back home…Then I felt it’s the moment when I should step in and show what I’ve got, and it paid off.”

When I lost a 5-3 lead in the third set at the SAP Open Qualies against Scott Draper, formerly top 50 in the world and the second professional tennis player to win a pro tournament in golf and tennis, he said the same thing after the match “I was either going to knuckle up or I was on a flight home.” He knuckled up and I drove home.

With Djokovic double match point in the trench, he was in a corner with his back against the wall. But, he acknowledged his reality. There was acceptance in his face. Then, in an instant, he clearly let go of the score, trusted his body and let it go. In that moment, it was as if his virtually untarnished year was uncorked as Federer hit a serve that landed in Djokovic’s wheel house. And he tagged it with zero tension in his body.

The best players in the world appear to be able to call up this internal state when they are under pressure. There is a combination of belief with a loose body, which is a powerful mix. Doing it under these conditions, of course, makes THIS shot even more remarkable. Remember, even Djokovic did not have a guarantee that his shot would land in but he chose to address the ball THAT way. That was his choice.

But, my key message here is that, while you are not at Djokovic’s level (I’m afraid noone is), you, too, can learn to let go more and more. Of course, there is more to the story on training your mind and body to LET GO, but as you challenge yourself to gradually reduce your focus on the score, learn how to drop into your body and embrace uncertainty, this state is available to you. It’s all relative. What can a little looseness and letting go do for your return of serve? Let’s move away from bracing too much and let your body swing a bit more through that ball without any thoughts. Sound scary enough?

Would love to hear your feedback on this post and any other mind-body related issues you would like me to address in future posts. Tell me what you want to know more about!

Jeff Greenwald, M.F.T
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