Tennis Champions: Are They Born? Or Made?
John Newcombe, former world tennis No 1 and former Australian
Davis Cup captain, once said that the top Australian players
of his era believed that it was their destiny to become tennis
Boris Becker told me that two weeks before achieving his first
Wimbledon title (in 1985 when seventeen years old), he felt
as if it were predetermined.
As a seventeen year old, Ivan Lendl, who, prior to Pete Sampras,
held the No 1 spot longer than any other player in history,
was convinced that he would turn himself into the best player
in the world. He would even tell you so.
When asked by the media about his chances of winning his first
US Open title (in 1975), Jimmy Connors' response was: "There
are 127 losers in the draw -- and me!" Jimmy won.
What these former greats had in common was an unshakeable
certainty that they would win. It is a trait that is shared
by all top sports people.
But a question that has always fascinated me is: Are such
champions born, or are they made?
Were Newcombe, Becker, Lendl and Connors born to rule the
tennis world? Or did they become champions because of the
choices they made? Was their success predetermined, as suggested
by Newcombe and Becker? Or was it a result of a single-minded
dedication to making themselves the very best, as implied
by Lendl and Connors?
Are champions a product of nature? Or of nurture?
To be a true champion at tennis or any other sport requires
very special qualities. These qualities or attributes can
be divided into two categories -- the physical and the mental.
It is my contention that physical attributes are predominantly
a product of chance. They are determined genetically.
For instance, some people are born with a body structure conducive
to speed, others to strength, and so on. In this sense, a
very large proportion of the population are excluded, from
birth, from ever winning an Olympic gold medal as a sprinter
or a weightlifter.
It is the same with tennis. The physical attributes that are
required to become a champion player are such things as good
hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes, and leg-speed. Without
question, these attributes can be developed to their fullest
potential with hard work and effective training methods.
But most people are excluded from becoming the best tennis
player in the world, no matter how much time they spend attempting
to reach their physical ceiling of potential.
Does this mean, then, that champions are born? Were Newcombe,
Becker, Lendl and Connors so physically superior to everyone
else that becoming the best was just a mere formality?
Certainly not. All four were exceptionally gifted physically,
but in my view, there were other players of the same eras
who were more gifted than they were.
What separated them from everyone else were their mental attributes:
their will to win, their determination, their perseverance,
their ability to remain calm under pressure, their ability
to bounce back from disappointments, and the belief that they
deserved to win -- all attributes that not one of us is born
with, but that each one of us has the power to develop. The
only choice is whether we want to or not.
It is in this sense that, given the necessary or essential
physical attributes as a starting point, all champions are
not only made -- they are self-made.
Copyright © 2006 Chris Lewis
Chris Lewis is a former No 1 ranked junior tennis
player in the world and Wimbledon finalist in 1983. During
his playing career, his coaches were Harry Hopman and Tony
Roche. To read more of Chris's tennis articles and tennis
tips, please visit his website at Expert
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