Roger Federer: From Great to Good ??

Mahesh S BharadvajContributor IFebruary 24, 2009

In the brave tennis world, you can't remain on top for too long! Fed is being challenged now more than ever, and that seems to hold the key in determining how he'll be held in generations to come.

Fed has refused to call it quits and that makes many of us ask seriously what's going to mark a second phase in his career. Let us take a look at the challenges ahead and how he may combat it in the next part.

And that's got a lot to do with the title of this article! (This article is split in two parts and I propose to go into some of the issues into next part).

I see a lots of parallel between sporting excellence and corporate excellence, despite whatever other differences that may exist. There is also a certain view about whether one should quit at his or her peak.

I am an avid reader and Good to Great is one of my all-time favorite books. The author sought to analyze top notch American companies (understandably because US had several Fortune 500 companies and unrivaled quality data over many years wooing anyone that loves doing research).
The book sought to research into what made some companies “great”. Essentially, the question is what have they done differently from others (including the so-called “good ones”).

The “great” companies were the ones that produced phenomenal results on a consistent basis over a long period. The good ones remain so in good times. Some manage to survive and some fold up over the years, yet the great ones grew from one level to another over the years and withstood the onslaught of time.

The great ones sufficiently leave their peers so far behind that it’s seemingly impossible to catch up. They understood well their core values and what it took to remain at that level and they had the ability to weather tough times.

I must digress a bit to an inspiring speech that I heard many years ago. I recollect an engaging speech made by the head of a leading financial institution in a closed forum many years back.

His point was generally that it was not necessarily the best idea to start looking for a job when he or she needs one desperately.

He sought to drive home a point that you should leave while you are still at your peak and not when you are not wanted anymore! (I guess lots of CEOs of US banks will agree on this, thanks to the newfound wisdom).

It may sound ironic, though, but the meaning of what he said started sinking in over the years. I realized that this idea cuts across to Sports very well. 

As we get back to our familiar Tennis world let’s just keep in mind (if you didn’t already notice) that the title of this article is not exactly the same as the book and somewhat opposite! You’ll discover why it's so!

It’s interesting to note that the great Bjorn Borg, who collected five consecutive Wimbledon titles, retired when he lost to McEnroe in his pursuit to extend it to six.

McEnroe had stated in some interviews that Bjorn Borg didn’t seem to have the same fire that he used to have before, and in the end it was not exactly as daunting a task as he set out for (especially after the nail-biting five setter that he lost out to in the previous year).

In recent memory, we saw Justine Henin, the dominant force in Women’s tennis, announce her retirement at her peak. Many a player wondered about her sudden decision to quit professional tennis.

I think Henin possibly had a taste of things to come when she suffered one of her worst beatings in the hands of Maria Sharapova in Aussie Open previous to her retirement.

I am certainly not exaggerating to say that she was scared into retiring, but Henin must have certainly had a perspective of life. She must have weighed her priorities and thought that going a family way was an attractive option.

That’s as compared to having to stay glued to competitive tennis, pitching oneself against younger breed of players and challenging oneself physically and mentally over a protracted period.

As it goes, Pete thought he was leaving a lasting legacy and hardly imagined the rise of someone like Fed within a decade to start seriously questioning his records.

Every player seems to have this instinctive human desire to leave something lasting behind, and Fed is possibly no exception to it.

In men's tennis, Fed is still on top of his game and has lots of tennis left in him. Perhaps, it’s his immense love for the ball game that he refuses to call it quits and preferring to stay back and fight.

Perhaps, his ambitions are further flavored by the addictive taste of dominance and a possible desire to leave records likely to survive for a longer time.

(I thought it was getting long, and hence decided to continue in Part 2 later)