He should be experiencing discontentment. He’s been toiling around on the fringes of greater achievement since his loss to the then world’s third highest ranked male player, Novak Djoovic in the 2008 Australian Open final.
Tsonga’s run to that final was no easy task, though at times he made it look as though it was. His first found match could quite easily have been his last as he met the ninth seeded Andy Murray. But Tsonga played a surprisingly solid match to take out Murray in four close sets. His next two wins were easy straight-setters over Sam Warburg (Q) and Guillermo Lopez.
Tsonga then bested countryman Richard Gasquet in four sets to reach the quarters against a red-hot Mikhail Youzhny who was riding a nine-match win streak.
To the surprise of many, Tsonga conquered Youzhny with ease, even serving up a bagel in the second set of his straight-set win.
That set up a clash with no. 2 seed Rafael Nadal.
Tsonga bares more than a passing resemblance to boxing great Muhammad Ali who often poetically predicted in which round he would vanquish his opponent.
So, prior to his semifinal match, I mused, “Tsonga must now fall to the game of Nadal.”
I was wrong, dead wrong.
Tsonga easily walked all over Nadal as though he was the no. 2 seed and Nadal the unseeded player.
It was astonishing. Tsonga’s win made him the first unseeded player to reach his first ATP final in a slam in 11 years, since Gustavo Kuerten had accomplished that unlikely feat in the 1997 French Open.
So what’s happened since Jo-Willfired set the tennis world buzzing four years ago?
Well, a lot really but not quite up to expectation. Tsongas’ played some very good matches and had a number of excellent wins over top-ten players, consistently. Along the way he even avenged his 08 loss to Djokovic by defeating him in the 2010 quarters of the Australian Open. It took five sets, his second five-setter in a row to get by Nole. Tsonga was left physically and emotionally drained. In the semis, Federer easily dismissed him.
Since then there have been injuries as well as some heart-breaking losses. But of late, injury seems a non-issue.The tough losses are another matter.
He’s been tantalizing close to “the big one,” the breakthrough, breakout win.
Why hasn’t it happened?
Tsonga has two of the four necessary elements firmly in place, the game and the weaponry. After playing coach less for the last year or so, maybe the hiring of Roger Rasheed into that capacity will fill an important void. But that is only one of the two missing components, an important one for sure, but not the most vital.
Considering that today’s top level pros have strikingly comparable skill sets, the absolutely, positively most consequential element for success at the elite level is belief.
B-E-L-I-E-F! It’s the single most limiting factor.
Simplistically put, if a player doesn’t believe he can win, then he can’t.
Oh sure, he could win by default if his opponent became ill or was injured prior to or during the course of a match rendering him unable to compete. Or, he could win as did Marin Cilic over “he of the concrete foot,” David Nalbandian. During the final of the Queens Club tournament earlier this year, Nalbandian was immediately defaulted after kicking a cheaply constructed barrier surrounding a linesman’s feet, obliterating it and causing an abrasion to the officials shin. For that indiscretion, Cilic was awarded both the trophy and winners check.
But all such extraneous crap aside, the non-believer cannot and will not win of his own volition.
According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (yeah, I’ve still got one of those old books and enjoy using it on occasion), belief is: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.
A confident state or habit of mind is what’s missing from many top level players. It’s the limiting factor preventing extraordinarily competent, capable individuals from moving from the realm of “good” to “great.” Tsonga is one of those players. Tomas Berdych is another.
Berdych is an even more glaring example of a non-believer than Tsonga. In a recently past interview, Berdych stated that the top four players had distanced themselves from all the others. Why would he say that? That implies that he does not believe he is as good as those guys.
He’s wrong. Berdych is an exceptional athletic specimen. His physicality is second to none, his technical abilities on par with all, and he hits the ball as hard or harder than anyone on tour.
Both Tsonga and Berdych can beat the top four. They’ve done it before. They’ve just not done it went it counted most.
Lukas Rosol proved beyond a shadow of doubt what and inspired believer can do when he is in the zone. For reasons known only to Rosol, in the second round of the 2012 Wimbledon, he believed with every fiber of his being that he could and would beat the number two seed, Rafael Nadal. He did so in such emphatic fashion that it stunned the entire tennis world.
Rosol’s punishing victory clearly illustrated the physical and technical parity amongst professionals from the upper echelon to much, much lower ranked players.
The fact is, all these guys are awfully damn good!
What separates them is the degree to which they believe in themselves.
By making the assertion that the top four have distanced themselves from the rest, is Berdych not self-relegating himself to a second-tier reality?
Are many others not doing the same?
I have an alternative “top four” theory.
I think that rather than the top four distancing themselves from the rest, in truth, the lesser ranked players are distancing themselves from the top four by placing those guys on a pedestal and then convincing themselves that they just are not as good.
I’m not advocating being delusional. It’s good to be realistic, but adoration of others should not be done at the expense of “self.”
Bottom line; today’s pros all have very similar skill sets, access to the best equipment and coaching. Physically, they are all exceptionally well conditioned athletes. Realistically, some can execute better than others on a more consistent basis. That gap can be closed by reducing unforced errors, refining the ability to execute a game plan and practice, practice, practice.
But mindset, that is the dominant “factor of separation.”
Belief, true belief overcomes.