Time to Reflect?

Earlier this week I watched (on TV) the British tennis player, Jo Konta, lose in the quarter-final of the Wimbledon singles competition. It was a disappointing end given the calibre of opponent she had beaten in earlier rounds. She was the favourite to progress to the semi-finals, where a meeting with Serena Williams would await. But it was not to be for Konta who made too many unforced errors and failed to counter an intelligent, and experienced opponent who was ready to hang-tough and take her big chance. I thought John McEnroe summed it up perfectly when stating that after a promising start, “the wheels came off”. Konta insisted her performance was not about an inability to handle pressure – but when sports people get anxious their movements become less fluid (more stiff) as technique becomes effected by muscle tension. Decision-making can also be influenced by anxiety as changes in attentional focus occur. It looked to me like the classic signs of a player “tightening up” – she certainly looked a different player to the one from earlier rounds. As her opponent stepped-up her game and the contest became close, there seemed to be no answer from Konta. No attempt to change tactics or adapt as her opponent had done when she was behind. When your opponent has figured out how to combat your weapons, it’s time to react and give her something to think about – to have the sport intelligence to adapt. If this result happened against Serena we would probably accept that the better player was showing her class. In reality the number of unforced errors that Konta made told a different story. Mental toughness is about raising your game and playing to your true potential when it matters – if the opponent is better then that’s too bad. Konta rightly gave credit to her opponent in the following press conference but became surprisingly defensive following a tough line of questioning by one reporter. His question was about whether she would reflect on her performance and look to make some changes in order to compete and potentially win Grand Slams in the future. It was probably the right question at the wrong time. Emotions can take over in the aftermath of a disappointing loss and that might account for the overly defensive and spikey response. Nevertheless, elite sport is a harsh environment where tough questions are expected. People often talk about learning from experience, but you can have a whole lot of different experiences in life, but if you are not prepared to reflect and analyse then that experience is in effect wasted. Learning comes from reflecting, analysing, and then planning a way ahead that can lead to improvement. I am sure that is what Jo Konta and her team will be doing. She has shown an ability to handle pressure in previous matches, but there is an inconsistency that is still apparent. The very best find a way through tough situations – they hang-in, change tactics, force their opponent to think, change their own mindset etc. It’s about finding a way to win when your A-game is off. Jo Konta has shown that she has the game to challenge in the final rounds of tournaments, but there are clearly things to work on. It is time to reflect, analyse and plan ahead in order to ensure she plays “tough-tennis” when the need arises. Anyone not sure about what I mean by “tough-tennis” should read “Winning Ugly” by Brad Gilbert. Now there was a player, not the most naturally gifted, who got the best out of his talent. He was a player prepared to adapt, change things, and make it difficult for the other player. My hope is that Jo Konta can realise her potential, because I think she is better than the performance she showed in the quarter-finals.