Do you have the mental stamina to fight to the end of a long, closely contended competition and never give up? Is your fitness strong enough to endure a five-hour battle so that you don’t lose your mental focus? Are you mentally able to push past the physical pain when your body is telling you it’s out of gas?
I loved the feeling of a close, hard-fought competition when I played football, hockey, and lacrosse in high school and college, and more recently golf and tennis. A close competition can bring out the best in you when your body is fit and you’re prepared mentally for battle. And today I like watching a close competition and observe the mental game antics of the competitors.
You might have recently witnessed an epic battle on the tennis court between the number one and two ranked players in the world, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, during the 2012 Australian Open. Nadal and Djokovic grinded out the longest match in grand slam final history, lasting five hours and 53 minutes. Neither competitor gave up until the last shot was played.
Even if you’re not a big tennis fan (or an ironman competitor), you have to appreciate the effort given by Nadal and Djokovic during their six-hour match. It was like watching two heavyweight fighters going at it.
Both Nadal and Djokovic commented on just how physically and mentally exhausting they felt during the match. Neither player was willing to give up. Nadal explained that in a way, he enjoyed the suffering that came with overcoming extreme exhaustion and taking his body past it’s limit, “But that’s nice to be there fighting, trying to go to the limit, bring your body to the limit… So when you are fit, when you have passion for the game, when you are ready to compete, you are able to suffer and enjoy suffering, no?” Nadal says.
Come on! How can you not only endure this kind of suffering, but also to enjoy it? He loves the competition! It takes a strong mental game to play beyond the pain and exhaustion because when the body is exhausted, the mind is not far from it. But to continue to execute with excellence and a high level of accuracy is truly to sign of a champion. No choking. No mental lapses. Not perfect tennis, but playing at a high level for over five hours.
Djokovic agreed with Nadal saying that he also enjoyed the blood, sweat, and tears of the long and highly competitive match, “You know, you are in pain, you are suffering, you know that you’re trying to activate your legs, you’re trying to push yourself another point, just one more point, one more game. You’re going through so much suffering your toes are bleeding. Everything is just outrageous, you know, but you’re still enjoying that pain,” said Djokovic.
The top athletes in the world train for this type of battle. They understand that to be the best, you have to endure the pain and sacrifice of long hours of training and preparation. They also prepare mentally for the fact that they’ll have some matches that will sap their energy and take them beyond the comfort zone.
Defending Champion Djokovic acknowledged how challenging it was to maintain his mental and physical strength throughout the match, “I mean, I overcame everything, and that’s the most important thing for me. To be able to mentally hang in there and physically, you know I mean, it was obvious on the court for everybody who has watched the match that both of us, physically, we took the last drop of energy that we had from our bodies,” he said.
Even Nadal, who has lost the last 3 grand slam titles to Djokovic was able to walk away feeling satisfied because he gave it everything he had and left nothing in the gas tank. “So today I had this feeling, and it’s a really good one. I enjoyed. I suffered during the match, but I enjoyed all the troubles that I had during the match. I tried to be there, to find solutions all the time. I played a lot with my heart, “ Nadal said.