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Here’s How Winners Succeed (Lessons From Rod Laver Arena)

Here’s How Winners Succeed (Lessons From Rod Laver Arena)

In recent weeks, Melbourne Park – the sporting venue renowned for hosting the Australian Open games – has been ablaze with a flurry of jaw-dropping and nerve-wracking activity. The stars came out to play. And they played beautifully, giving us several unforgettable moments of brilliance along the way.

The game format is not entirely new. It starts with 128 players, all vying for the title. But after several rounds of elimination, there can only be one winner. And so they tough it out, pushing themselves and their opponents to the limits (and quite often beyond) in the quest for the ultimate prize.

As a proud Melbourne resident, I followed the games with eager interest. The sheer talent and tenacity on display were captivating. And as sporting events do, the games offered a rare insight into the elements that align in the making of a winner. Of course, game-play is hardly an empirical approach to studying success. But it illuminates a great deal about the character and calculus that goes into achieving it.

These are my findings.

Not all wins are created equal. There’s a case for lucrative losses.

There’s an interesting statistic in the game of tennis that makes no sense, until it does. In most sports, you win by scoring more individual points than the opponent. Most tennis games conform to this general rule. But on rare occasions, the winner actually scores fewer points than their counterpart. That’s precisely what happened in the final of the men’s singles, where tournament winner, Rafael Nadal, scored 182 individual points in the match. That’s 7 less than his opponent and silver medalist, Daniil Medvedev.

From this, we note that there’s a lot of losing on the way to the top. But there’s a more crucial lesson to unearth. Not all wins are equally important. There’s a case for choosing your battles (and your wins) carefully.

Talent is not enough. Far from it.

If the last point is anything to go by, talent is not the only factor that makes one successful. Leaning into analogies, it’s more like a buffet of condiments, than a single secret ingredient.

Once again, the men’s final makes this point quite remarkably. In this game, Nadal served 3 aces, compared to Medvedev’s 23. For outsiders to the game, an ace is when one player serves the ball so masterfully that the opponent cannot touch (let alone return) it. It’s one of the common proxies for talent in the sport. And on that score, the winner didn’t even compare.

Looking at the other statistics, Nadal did not particularly outclass his opponent either. Yet he somehow managed to outshine him.

How often do we see successful individuals being asked to articulate the one thing that led to their success? Due to what’s called the vividness bias, we are prone to overestimate the significance of attributes that manifest through moments of brilliance, like talent, and miss the less spectacular things. Indeed, we’re predisposed to explain success through the things we marvel at.

But talent, dazzling as it is, is not enough. While it has (many) benefits and is great to have, it’s simply not the only condiment in the buffet that feeds success.

Calm under pressure.

Winners know how to diffuse pressure with uncommon composure. Especially useful if the winning performance is not dominant. There are moments in the game where it could go either way. Winners have the mental resilience needed to navigate those big moments.

Ashley Barty, ranked number one in the women’s singles, exemplified this is the finals of the women’s event. Having won the first set quite comfortably, she trailed in the 2nd set by 5 games to 1. If she had lost the 2nd set, her counterpart, Danielle Collins, would have had the mental upper hand going into the deciding set. Not ideal.

What happened next was not just a treat for every Australian, but a show of resilience and character. Ashley fought her way back to parity, forcing the 2nd set into a tiebreaker, which she won, casually making history in the process. She became only the 2nd Australian to ever win the women’s title on home soil and the first to do so in 44 years.

It wasn’t a single magical moment that turned the tide, but a series of calculated wins. As the commentary went, she problem-solved her way out of a tight spot to get to the top.

Your Why Matters. That’s your North Star.

The motivation that carries winners through to the end is always bigger than them. You’ll hardly hear a winner say how proud of themselves they are while giving a victory speech. Or how satisfied they are with their own effort. They tend to have a bigger reason. A more compelling why. It’s about giving fans and team members some validation. Or raising the bar and inspiring the next generation of greats. It’s about leaving a legacy. It’s also about making family and country proud. All these reasons have nothing to do with playing the game for fun and prize money.

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To be sure, it’s not just winners who need a bigger why. This is true for everyone who plays the game at the highest level. A bigger why is an essential piece of the puzzle. I’ve noticed that the speeches from consolation prize winners draw from the same themes as the winning speech. They always acknowledge everyone and everything that inspired them to succeed.

During her post-match press interview, women’s runner up Danielle Collins jumped at the opportunity to speak highly of Marty, a friend who believed in her when it mattered most.

There’s always a bigger why at play. Here’s a corollary to this truth: If you want to be on a winning team, find someone to believe in, and start believing. Getting behind someone (or something) is just as important as leading the charge.

Final Thoughts

It would be remiss of me to conclude without giving context to the preceding points.

It feels good to win and achieve success, no matter the endeavour. I wish we all experience more of this feeling. What makes a win all the more validating is being able to look back on the journey that’s been. It’s the journey that makes the success meaningful, not the other way round.

Why does this matter?

Because it’s easy to miss the significance of where we are (in life, career, or business) when it’s a less than ideal place. But no matter where you are right now in your journey, you can find meaning in it, by reflecting on the milestones that got you there, and (just as importantly) the milestones you’re working towards.

Relating the present to the past and the future in this way helps us interpret things. It brings meaning and clarity to bear. And that’s always a good thing.

View Comment (1)
  • Great article as usual. I love the emphasis on milestones. They do play a key part in the journey to achieving one’s goals.

    Stephanie, xo

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