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French Open Champion Rafael Nadal: 13 is the Lucky Number

Posted by Joe Antle on October 12, 2020 9:00 AM EDT
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How does Rafael Nadals 13th French Open Men's singles title and his 100-2 win-loss record inform us about innovation?  What can one person's individual success suggest....

....regarding innovation principles that can be adopted by others and adapted to other situations?

As a tennis player for all of my adult life, I have enjoyed richly playing the game of tennis at high levels.  Growing older has changed how well I compete with others much younger than me, and to some degree, even those my own age.  However, I have increasingly enjoyed watching tennis being played at the highest levels and in the improvements in the quantity and quantity of high quality professional tennis that is available for watching due in large part to the robust improvements in The Tennis Channel.

But what does that have to do with innovation, especially the dominance of the top three players-Nadal, Federer and Djokovic?  And what about the global spread in the game and the fact that the dominant nations in professional tennis are no longer the U.S. and  Australia?

I started playing tennis at the age of fourteen.  In those days the rackets were made of wood, although aluminum and steel soon began to come into the market.  There wasn't much tennis to be seen, the tennis balls were largely white as was the formal attire.  While it began to grow in popularity through TV and innovative competition formats such as World Championship Tennis and others, the game was largely played following specific approaches.  It was perceived as a rich person's sport and blotes like me had a slim chance of being successful in such a difficult game from a technique perspective.  The good news was that someone like me who was willing to work hard and go to junior college for a year or two could earn full scholarships in college even if they hailed from refinery towns whose only tennis courts were at the local high school(s).

Again, how does this all lead to the almost unimaginable achievement of Rafael Nadal to win 13 titles on arguably the toughest surface, red European clay in the most demanding of events, the French Open?  Actually, it has nothing....and everything to do with it.

Innovation begins with an idea or even a belief that someone or some organization can achieve something beyond the boundaries of currently defined achievements.  Then, beyond the beliefe there has to be techniques and technologies that enable a difference approach to take root.  Ultimately, the innovator has to work hard and be determined.  And there must be adequate talent to support the effort, the technique, the belief in a massive achievement and the technology available.  And ultimately the innovator has to be willing to follow Winston Churchhill's advice in his famous seven word speech, "Never, give up, never, never give up"!

That said, on the red clay Rafael Nadal has proved that an indomitable will to win, excessive topspin strokes, hitting firmly from all sorts of awkward positions, rackets that now give the spin more accuracy and power and extraordinary athleticism are powerful ingredients for success.  Just as Roger Federer's game is tuned well to indoor carpet and outdoor grass courts.  Djokovic may be the most well-rounded of the big three.

In fact, all of the big three together have lifted each other and their games to heights not imaginable in one of the older globally popular sports.  And each of them have done it by leveraging the following attributes that can be attributable to innovations and breakthroughs of all sorts:

-A vision and belief that something extraordinary is possible

-A desire and determination to stick to the mission and make changes

-A talent to confidently stride forward against all odds

-Technology that enhances and transforms technique

-Humbleness in victory and reverence and good humor in defeat

-A team that has been their support structure since the beginning

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