Australian Open 2013: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic Refuse to Accept Defeat

Jeremy Eckstein@!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2013

MASON, OH - AUGUST 19:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Roger Federer of Switzerland pose for photographers after the trophy ceremony during the final of the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 19, 2012 in Mason, Ohio.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are the top two seeds for the 2013 Australian Open. Their historical achievements have come through winning big matches, but their common denominator of success is a refusal to accept defeat.

Every player on the ATP tour has world-class talent. All players have learned to win behind their unique talents, and all players will lose matches. The separation between the great champions and the journeymen are often more than their talent. Success and failure are also matters of conditioning and habit.

Federer and Djokovic have personal standards of winning Grand Slam titles, but they also hate the consequences of losing matches. They are best equipped to battle through the crux of a match’s heat and intensity when other players concede.

They can be beat, but losing matches drives them to greater success.


Why is the Human Brain Superior?

It’s too easy to explain Federer’s success as a brilliant gift. Other players have also had great serves and forehands. Many have had better backhands, quicker feet and superior retrieval skills. However, analyzing each skill is insufficient. After all, 95 percent of the chimpanzee brain is equivalent to that of the human brain.

What is the critical five percent that separates champions like Federer from the other professionals?

Scientists like genetics researcher Michael Oldham of UCLA explain that humans have superior interconnected genes because the genes do not operate in isolation. Unlike chimpanzees, the human brain’s cerebral cortex directs systems and networks to work together.

Federer’s beautiful style and fluid timing are interconnected results to his talent and drive. His multifaceted skills work in harmony with his trained efforts to dominate, but he synthesizes his attitude to rise above defeat.

In 2004, Federer learned to dominate the ATP tour. His winning and confidence multiplied, and he often intimidated opponents before they finished their warmup strokes. He created game pressure on his competitors, and many lost heart at some point of the match. Inwardly, they accepted the inevitability of losing.

In contrast, Federer augmented his winning with a growing refusal to accept losing. Often, he flipped near-defeat into winning and transformed losses into future titles.

At the 2009 Australian Open, Federer shed tears following one of the toughest losses of his career to rival Rafael Nadal. His emotional display received a range of media and fan reactions, but above all, it was a gift for tennis fans. Here was a champion so passionate for winning tennis titles that his physiological condition could not accept defeat.


When Does Pressure Improve Performance?

For the past two years, no player has stared down defeat better than Djokovic. Though previously a supremely talented player, he became a champion by succeeding when defeat was imminent.

In the 2011 U.S. Open semifinals versus Federer, Djokovic famously overcame match points by gambling for big returns off his opponent’s serve. More importantly, he finished out the match by raising his game with improved mettle.

Composure may be inherent, but classical conditioning reinforces success or failure. Long ago, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov showed that a conditioned stimulus could produce an unconditioned response. An animal or human could be trained to respond to its environment and produce a specific behavior.

Djokovic, like all players, has faced defeat, but he has trained his body and mind to overcome the crucible of intensity. In many instances, he needs adversity to raise his game. It does not always work because the margin of error with gallant comebacks are often thin. Yet, even tough losses like the 2012 U.S. Open to Andy Murray saw him rally through a dispirited two-set deficit for a chance to seize the fifth set.

Above all, Djokovic showed his heart and skill at the 2012 Australian Open final by defeating Nadal. He did not have to overcome a heavy deficit, but rather, he had to regroup after his opponent’s spirited charge.

By the middle of the fifth set, he found his zone with harder groundstrokes, and he was unperturbed by his mistakes. He endured the grind of six hours for his most epic victory, and with it, a belief that he is never defeated.


Tough Outs at Aussie

Four years later, the inevitability of Federer’s success has been witnessed and validated. He knows that many matches will test his resolve. At critical periods, he will play the percentages with his service game and look to work his opponent with set-up shots and winners. It transcends athletic performance with a message to his opponents that he will not concede.

Djokovic’s half of the draw is acknowledged to be easier than Federer’s half, but this does not mean he will not be tested. If history is an indicator, it would be better for Djokovic to be pushed, so that he is conditioned for possible semifinal and championship battles.

At least one of these two champions will lose before someone hoists the title. Only one player will ultimately succeed with his championship goals.

But if tennis fans are looking for why Federer and Djokovic are the standard of tennis, look no further than the greatness of winning when conditions are scorching in Melbourne. They will not accept defeat.


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