Roger Federer dominated men’s tennis for over a decade, he has a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, and many believe there hasn’t been a better player than him in the history of the game. He probably knows more about modern tennis than any other person on the planet. So why would he need former World No. 1 Stefan Edberg to be his guide? Sure, 2013 was the first really bad year for him on the professional circuit, but what can Edberg tell Federer that he doesn’t know already?
It was Andy Murray who set the trend two years ago when he appointed former champion Ivan Lendl as his coach. Four times he had reached the last stages of Grand Slam tournaments without winning the title. But with Lendl in his corner, he got past that hump, first by beating Federer for the 2012 Olympic gold, and then claiming the US Open and Wimbledon trophies.
Murray used to be this overwrought character on court, and the ice cool Lendl was the perfect foil for him. Strategically, he became more dogged in his approach and less erratic, trusting himself to win long rallies from the back of the court with solid ground strokes to outpower even Novak Djokovic.
Complementing each other
Seeing the success Murray had with Lendl, Djokovic himself has turned to another champion from the eighties, Boris Becker, to help him climb back on top of the heap after slipping to No. 2 in the rankings, below Rafael Nadal. The aggressive, flamboyant Becker is the opposite of Lendl, but he may be just what Djokovic needs.
If the near-perfect Serb can be faulted at all, it is that he doesn’t take more of an initiative or risk, to get better value for his shot-making ability against a relentless opponent like Nadal. Becker might get him a little more worked up, take more chances, go to the net more often. Again, there are both mental and strategic aspects of his game that Djokovic can perhaps improve only with the help of a past great like Becker.
If there is mutual respect and the right chemistry between the two, it can give Djokovic just that extra edge he needs to overcome Nadal. He is already doing most things right to be No. 2 in the world rankings with 12,260 points, the rest of the field being below 6000 points; only Nadal is ahead at 13,130 points.
But any change in approach or strategy has to be well thought out – Djokovic wouldn’t want to upset any part of his game that is working like a well-oiled machine. That’s where an expert eye like that of Becker, who has been there and done that, could provide constructive inputs without muddling things up. Becker would also be a great sounding board for Djokovic’s own ideas.
Tips from a childhood idol
And that brings us back to Federer. What can his childhood idol Edberg bring to the table? For one thing, they are sure to discuss how to make that single-handed backhand work to Federer’s advantage in the modern baseline power game, instead of being a handicap against the two-fisted thumping of all his top rivals. Perhaps Edberg will also point out to Federer something an all-time great like him may find hard to accept: that he is older, weaker and slower than what he was in his heyday, and so his game has to adjust to that. Maybe he needs to be more proactive and go for a winner more often. This much is for sure: even an all-time great like Federer can learn a thing or two by stepping out of his own shoes and seeing his game through the eyes of a past great whom he once admired.
We’ll see how much of a difference this makes, once the Australian Open gets under way on Monday. In a delicious throwback to the eighties, it will once again be Edberg, Becker and Lendl pitted against one another, except that they will now be competing by proxy.
Takeaways for entrepreneurs
What entrepreneurs can learn from Federer, Djokovic and Murray is the value of bringing in experienced, knowledgeable consultants for fresh insights about their products or processes or any other aspect of their business. If it’s the right fit, that may provide just the thrust needed to lift the business to the next level. At the very least, a well-chosen consultant or advisor can help think about a problem or requirement in a new way. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a transformation.