Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Mind Games: Is Mental Aspect of Tennis Overrated?

Devil in a New DressSenior Writer IMay 23, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia smashes his racket during his third round match against Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus on Day Six of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 25, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The buzz word nowadays in tennis is "mental strength". When a player wins: mental strength. When a player loses: mental strength.

It's either mental strength to overcome adversity, mental toughness to withstand pressure, intestinal fortitude (i.e. mental strength—for those who know their biology, the brain mediates most actions in the intestines) to hang tough etc, etc.

Everywhere we go, it's mental, mental, mental. I don't know about you, but I've had enough of it.

In all honesty, it is a non-sequitur term employed by self-loving tennis people (enthusiasts, no doubt) with an inflated sense of self-importance.

Harsh? Okay, maybe a little.

Nevertheless, just going over some of the highlights of the recent Rome Masters final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, I can't stop being stunned every time I rewind back to Novak Djokovic smashing his racket after losing the first set of the match

Yes, there had been a contentious call during that set that denied him a chance of breaking Nadal to serve for the set, and I understand he could have been frustrated because of that, but—and it's a big but—common sense should have dictated that he not do that.  

By that I mean, looking at Nadal and Roger Federer (who are THE role models in tennis) and at how they have carried themselves in their matches and at how they have won big things by keeping their cool (and incidentally, not smashing rackets in front of their biggest rivals), you'd think Djokovic would put two and two together and maybe try to copy that.


So, the real question is why he did it? Why sabotage yourself in this manner? Was he just too lazy to stop himself or perhaps he didn't really think it would cost him: a) his concentration, b) his mental edge and c) eventually the match.

If it's the latter, which it seems to be and is the only one that makes sense (lazy and being the number one player in the world don't go together), then clearly the whole "mental" aspect of the game is not something he takes particularly seriously.

And if the world's No. 1 doesn't take it that seriously, should we? I say no.

What do you think? Is the mental aspect of the game overrated?