What can we learn from the 2021 US Open’s historic edition?

antoni girod Published by Antoni Girod – 21 September 2021
US OPen 2021 Photo credit © Sportsnet, Sky Sports, NBC News, News24

This year we saw an absolutely historic US Open edition! In the women’s draw, this was the first time since 1999 that two teenagers, 18-year-old Emma Raducanu and 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez were able to advance to a Grand Slam final.

The last time, the youngest – 18-year-old Serena Williams –  also happened to defeat her one year senior – 19-year-old Martina Higgins. For the American player it was also her first Grand Slam victory. She now has 23! But what is most remarkable in Raducanu’s performance is that she managed the feat of getting out of qualifyers to win the tournament, all without losing a single set!

The men’s final was even more of a historic event for Novak Djokovic who had only two hurdles to overcome to become truly legendary. The first one was winning his 21st Grand Slam title, thus overtaking Federer and Nadal. The second one was to win all four majors in the same calendar year and thus become the first player to achieve a Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969. For his opponent Daniil Medvedev –  the winner of the Masters 2020 who’d twice failed in finals at the 2019 US Open and 2021 Australian Open – the challenge was to enter tennis history by winning his very first Grand Slam.

In an individual competitive sport like tennis, pressure plays an important role. Yet it was of a totally different nature in these two finals.

For the two rookies Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, the pressure was positive as both of them had nothing to lose and everything to win.  Hence they freely deployed their game with youthful unawareness and without giving too much thought to the stakes at play. The next step for the winner (Emma Raducanu) will be to manage her new-found status and fame in order to stay focused on the things she did to win her first title and those she’ll need to do to become a serial winner.

For Djokovic – a player accustomed to high-stakes finals and a master of winning after reversing the most compromised situations – the magnitude of the stakes involved without doubt weighed heavily on the outcome of the final. The stats don’t lie: in the semi-final against Zverev he made only 28 unforced errors in 5 sets. In the final he made 38 in 3 sets! As a matter of fact, his nervousness was palpable from the very start when he smashed his racquet after losing a point in the fourth game, and later too when he almost ended up hitting a ball girl in anger after another lost point. Without diminishing the performance of his opponent, he was far from playing one of his best matches. Still we can be sure that he will bounce back and turn this failure into a stepping stone to winning other Slams in the future!

Medvedev learned the lessons not only from the two finals he’d lost previously but also from his Masters victory, so that he was able to persevere after two double faults on his first two match points and find a way to turn the pressure into positive energy to win his first Grand Slam tournament. With his talent, his experience at the highest level and his qualities as a Chess Master he has all that’s needed to become the leader of men’s tennis Next Gen and win many more majors.

So what can we learn from these two finals ? And how can we carry these lessons over to the field of sales performance?

Just like top athletes, salespeople are in constant competition and must constantly face the pressure of results. For junior salespeople, the unawareness of beginnings and the blind confidence of youth can make it possible to approach high-stakes appointments without pressure and to sign large contracts. It will be necessary to ensure that this is not a one-off victory but instead leads to consistent results. For more experienced salespeople used to signing medium-sized contracts but who often fail when it comes to larger contracts, their ability to be resilient, to persevere, to keep working hard and getting better is the key to landing their first “Grand Slam” contract. Then we have serial winners used to signing big contracts, who when faced with the contract of the century might feel such pressure that they completely miss their oral defense appointment.  They will need to learn the lessons from this experience so that they can turn it into a lever for future success and reach the next level.

In conclusion, I would say that it is always possible to sweep aside the idea of pressure with the phrase:

Pressure is for tyres

But in sports as in business, the pressure is real. The good news is that experience, perseverance, good preparation and consistency in analyzing wins and losses can help everyone deal with it and turn it into positive energy!

I wish you the best for your next Grand Slams!

Photo credit © Sportsnet, Sky Sports, NBC News, News24.

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