How to Bounce Back From a Big Loss

Federer losing to Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon final
Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
This can happen to anyone. Roger Federer is a good example. Have you ever experienced a big loss in a tennis match and found it difficult to regain your confidence or motivation to keep fighting and working towards your goal?

He first lost to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final, a match Federer had no chance of winning. But when he lost his favorite tournament at Wimbledon in an extremely tight match (9:7) in the fifth set, the pain set in.

Since Wimbledon, Roger has lost to Giles Simon, Ivo Karlovic, and James Blake. In none of these matches has he played in top form.

What is the solution for Roger Federer? What can you do if you experience a painful loss and can't find your way back?

1. Sooner or later, everyone loses a big match.
Even the greatest players are not infallible. Consider a few examples.

a) Ivan Lendl lost four Grand Slam finals before winning one. He eventually won eight titles in 19 finals. One of his most painful losses was to Pat Cash in the Wimbledon final-the only Grand Slam that Lendl never won. No doubt many of the other final losses were painful, too.

b) Andre Agassi lost three Grand Slam finals before winning his first title at Wimbledon. Two of these losses were heartbreakers: the first French Open final against Andrés Gomez in which Agassi was a clear favorite because Gomez was 30 years old, and the second final against Jim Courier in which Agassi was leading two sets to one and keeping Courier on the defensive until a rain delay helped Courier recover and adapt his strategy to win in five sets.

c) Patrick Rafter, arguably the best net player of all time, lost a Wimbledon final against Goran Ivanisevic. Although it was nice to see Ivanisevic finally win at Wimbledon (he had lost three times before in the finals!), it must have been traumatic for Rafter to never win the serve and volley tournament, his specialty, at Wimbledon.

If you take the time to explore the careers of top tennis players, you will undoubtedly find that all of them have experienced tough losses. These players remained at the top because they bounced back from defeat.

Take the sting out of your loss by reminding yourself that loss is part of the game, something to be accepted and released. It's not the big loss that keeps you from being at the top, it's your negative reaction to it that sticks in your mind and undermines your confidence.

Feel the pain, experience fully the emotions connected with your loss, and then refocus; remember what you achieved before this loss and that you can be successful again.

2. The loss affects your mentality but not your ability.
When you lose a big match, you may feel let down and extremely disappointed. You may even start thinking that you can't play good tennis again after such a loss. But if you think logically, you will realize that your physical and technical abilities have not changed. You still possess the same skills you had before you lost, the same skills that helped you win other matches.

The loss can be attributed to incorrect tactics, bad luck, your opponent having an incredible day, and many other factors that affect a tennis match. What the loss cannot do is change your skills. You are still able to play the same level of tennis.

There is no logic that can prove a lost match will prevent future victory. If the loss seems to affect your skills, it is because you think that it can. Only you can degrade your level of play by negative thinking and by creating illogical beliefs that something is now wrong with your game.

3. The most painful loss can be the greatest teacher.
Pete Sampras lost a U.S. Open final in 1992 to Stefan Edberg and later stated that his loss was the "wake-up call" he needed to learn what it takes to become a world champion. We all know what happened after that-Sampras set a new record by finishing the year at number one for six straight years.

Instead of blaming your loss on circumstances out of your control, find weaknesses in your game and work on them. Your own actions are 100% within your control.

Tennis is a demanding sport, and it's unlikely that you have reached your potential in all parts of the game. Sometimes only a painful loss can show you where your game is still not good enough and motivate you to take your game and training sessions to the next level.

Bouncing back from a painful loss doesn't have to be difficult or take a long time. If you understand that losing a big match happens to everyone, that none of your abilities have changed, and that your biggest loss can be your biggest teacher, then you won't just bounce back to the same level you played before, you will become a better player in a short amount of time.

Winning or losing is not within your control. Becoming a better player is always your choice, and that choice will eventually bring you success.



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