I’m writing from the terrace of the players’ lounge at the Indian Wells event, where the view is incredible, and the desert mountains in the background resemble a postcard. Fernando Verdasco just finished his match, as the hot temperature reached its peak around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a tough loss; Fernando couldn’t handle adversity the way I was hoping he could. We had practiced these types of situations a little, but after analyzing the match, it has become clear that these practices haven’t become a habit yet.
There were chances and opportunities presented to him, but he could not make them materialize in results, as he was more focused on fighting with himself than his opponent. It was a frustrating sensation. As I’m writing, I keep thinking of how I could have turned this situation around, and to find the solution, I need to ask myself: Why does he get so angry with himself when he plays against the best Spanish player ever? Why is he so tough on himself?
Sanchez-Vicario working with Verdasco on court.
I’m sad because I was very motivated to get positive results quickly, and this was a good opportunity, as he was playing against Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic before the semifinals. Can you believe this difficult draw? It could have been an incredible opportunity to beat an entire tennis history in the same event! But it just wasn’t meant to be this time.
When we talked after the match I explained to him, as I do many times to the students in the Academy, that we can’t focus on results, we just have to focus on enjoying the ride and the fight. To enjoy these types of matches, you have to become resilient, and to get to that state, you need to face adversity. If he manages to become more resilient against the top players, he will be able to handle the pressure much better, face his problems, control his negative emotions, activate his abilities in difficult moments, learn from mistakes, recover better, and survive any adversity.
I have realized once again that tennis is such a difficult sport. As I was leaving the court I felt like a tennis player again: I felt the competition, looked into the opponent’s eyes, felt the desire to succeed, the frustration after a mistake in a key point, and I lived the visualization of what was going to happen. What I found the most difficult was reading the opponent’s game. Still, I was happy to be there.
It was great to be in the front row again, and it was an amazing feeling to be rooting for a player who has an amazing game and can dominate against anyone. I hope next time I can help him a bit more, and create new habits in practice that will make him believe in his game. I just had a long conversation with him about the match, and he believes in himself, but he is also aware of his weaknesses and knows he has to be more resilient. It won’t be easy, but I love challenges – the more difficult the better.
After so many years away from the Tour, a lot of faces have changed, but the work and the positions are exactly the same:
►We have young trainees (new players) who have a great work ethic and nothing to lose.
►We have players at their career peak (top players), who are tough and indestructible, and whose skills are almost perfect technically, tactically, physically and mentally.
►We also have senior players who have a lot of experience and are mentally tough, but might not be as physically fit anymore.
With some minor exceptions, the players from these three categories are equal in a match, but they have the same opponent: adversity, and its power to generate anger and fear. Don’t let adversity inspire the worst in you – you must learn to control it.
It’s going to be a great challenge for both of us, but looking at the horizon and the mountains around Indian Wells, I can guarantee that I will keep dreaming and believing. We will face our next big encounter with improved competitive skills and we will be more capable of conquering that eternal foe, adversity.
You can read more of Sanchez-Vicario's writings on his blog.
Emilio Sanchez-Vicario is an ex-ATP player who was ranked as high as number seven in singles and number one in doubles. He won 50 ATP singles titles and 50 doubles titles, including three Grand Slams, in his career. He is USPTA Master Professional Elite Certified and RPT Master Professional Certified. He is the CEO of Sanchez-Casal Academy and is the coach of current ATP pro Fernando Verdasco.