With the U.S. Open still fresh on our minds, I wanted to share my observations regarding 2016 U.S. Open Men’s Singles Champion Stan Wawrinka and the growth he has shown under the tutelage of “Tennis Therapist,” Coach Magnus Norman.
We have all seen the now-famous pose of Stan pointing to his temple, while making eye contact with his coach. He was asked about it several times after matches. He explained it was his way of communicating to his team that he was mindful of the fact that it would take a lot of suffering to win this match. He used the word “suffering” several times during interviews after matches. He was not only talking about the obvious physical exertion he was undergoing during a match, but also the mental agony he had to endure. After his hard fought semifinal win over Japan’s Kei Nishikori, I heard him say that he was embracing the suffering this week, and I immediately picked him as the favorite for the final. Stan did not go into much detail, but only that his coach Magnus Norman deserved a lot of credit getting him to buy into his philosophy.
What was Stan talking about and what can we learn from it?
Everyone has seen rollercoaster tennis matches in which the emotions of the players were on full display. The players are often so focused on winning and fighting off their opponent, that they are not in control of themselves and the energy of their emotions. In my opinion, with the chances for mood fluctuations so abundant, playing your matches like that will produce traits of an addict! A more healthy way to approach competition is staying focused on trying to be the best you can be … overcoming yourself in order to overcome your opponent.
Two ways Stan was able to succeed
He kept his discipline in check. In therapeutic terms … delay instant gratification.
Stan has the most powerful and devastating backhand in the game. At any moment, he can pull the trigger and blast a backhand down the line for a clean winner. The itch and urge to do that is always there. Norman taught him to control that urge. Only after a specific number of hits and by training specific patterns of shots, Stan is “allowed” to hit his favorite winning shot. Stan now knows the difference between going for that shot too soon and bailing out of a rally to wait for the right moment to deliver his devastating blow.
►He was dealing with setbacks. In therapeutic terms … dedication to reality
The score is reality. It is what it is. There is no use wasting energy fighting facts. It helps to understand that the score is not completely in your control. Your opponent deserves credit (blame). This is very hard for players. Stan endured many setbacks during the 2016 U.S. Open, and he spent more time on the court overcoming them than any other player.
►The maturity factor
The last few years, Stan Wawrinka has proven himself as a more mature and spiritually advanced competitor. As with all spiritual laws, there is a paradox. The paradox here is that by embracing the suffering and trying to overcome himself, Stan Wawrinka took his direct focus off of the “winning” end of things and has ended up winning more!
It was also very nice to hear Stan’s honesty to quickly add that he is not always able to embrace the suffering … that’s the Stanimal being human.
Tonny van de Pieterman
<p>Tonny van de Pieterman is director of tennis at Point Set Indoor Racquet Club. He was recently named USTA Tennis Professional of the Year for the USTA/Eastern Long Island Region and helped the Eastern Section win this year’s Talbert Cup. He may be reached by phone at (516) 536-2323 or e-mail <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.</p>