“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
In 2014 professional tennis player Stan Wawrinka got a tattoo of this quote by poet Samuel Beckett. In a June 2014 Guardian article he said:
“I only did the tattoo last year, but I first saw the quote a long time ago. It always stayed in my mind. It’s how I see life and tennis. The meaning of the quote doesn’t change no matter how well you do. There is always disappointment, heartache. You are losing almost every tournament. You need to just accept it and be positive because you are going to lose and fail. We’re not all Nadal or Djokovic, who can win most tournaments.”
I absolutely love tennis. I’ve been taking lessons, playing and going to the US Open every year, since I was a little girl. But as I’ve gotten older and more self aware, it has taken on different meaning to me. I watch the players play with such intensity, with ups and downs, some containing their emotions and others just letting it all hang out there. And it’s incredible to me..their focus and strength not only physically on the court but mentally too. It’s like they are learning how to deal with it all as they go, and we are all witness to it, their fears, vulnerabilities, their struggles as well as their successes. What they have to do to psych themselves into believing, sometimes seems like the impossible especially when facing adversity in their personal lives. When I watch, I almost feel like I’m getting a free life coach, telling me to get off my ass and step it up, push myself past the impossible and believe.
Sports commentators usually say, when a tennis player has won a match, that they made it “through” to the next round (ie: quarterfinals, semifinals, finals, etc..). It’s a great image, that idea of pushing through, past defeat, and it’s not necessarily just the person on the other side of the net they are trying to beat. The sports commentators always talk about the mental toughness of the players and how important that is. That couldn’t be more true of so many of the players at this years Australian Open. Venus Williams, as her sister Serena says, a champion not a comeback, fighting through Sjögren’s syndrome and seeing her grateful for each moment. Her energy made me smile after every win. She was child-like, spinning around the court, like she was in a dream or on a cloud. After she lost the final to her sister, Venus spoke from her heart. She would be back. This was to be continued.
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni’s story has everyone in tears. 19 years ago she fled Croatia from her abusive father. She had been at the top of her career but then fell in the rankings as a result of this personal battle. She cried a bit during her on court interview, after beating Karolina Pliskova and moving onto the semifinals. Her vulnerability was beautiful, putting it all out there. Powerful. After her earlier match against Jennifer Brady she said “I will tell it to anyone struggling out there. F everything and everybody, whoever tells you you can’t do it. Just show up and do it with your heart.” In the New York Times, Lucic-Baroni was quoted as saying: “I had a choice to cave or to grow and blossom from it. I took the latter choice, and I’m very proud of myself and my family, that we got away from that. I didn’t let it destroy me. It was difficult, sure, but I believe you really have a choice in everything. You either pick yourself up by the bootstraps and you move on and become stronger from your experiences. Or you falter. It was really difficult in the beginning when I started again, because I felt like I belonged somewhere at the top, and I wasn’t there. I was fighting really hard, clawing my way back. This also taught me a lot, all these years coming back. Now, I’m really at peace with where I am in my life, where I am in my career. I think it probably does show a little bit on the court as well.” I keep reading this over and over. It’s so easy to just give up and “falter.” But “showing up.” Yes! And with heart. Resounding yes!
And while I still love cheering on Federer and Nadal, both of who I’ve watched over many years, the last year or two I kept my eye on Stan Wawrinka. I watched him at the US Open last year, battle through matches, in the most unlikely of circumstances, always coming back with his mental toughness. I love his honesty and vulnerability, when he speaks to the press and sports commentators. I recall him saying after last years US Open final against Djokovic, which he won, that he was shaking in the locker room and crying, right before the match. He revealed what he was feeling and how he dealt with it during the match.
“I think this Grand Slam was the most painful, physically and mentally, that I ever played,” Wawrinka said. “I was feeling tired already at the beginning of the match. I was feeling the cramp coming in the third set.” He was determined “not to show anything” but just to “give everything and keep fighting and go try to win it”. “There is no secret,” Wawrinka said. “If you want to beat the number one player in the world you have to give everything. You have to accept to suffer and you have almost to enjoy to suffer.”
Enjoying suffering and powering through it to get the reward or goal. I like that. A little dark in nature, yes. Almost going towards the uncomfortable, with an unknown result. I know I have pretty much dared myself into doing things out of my comfort zone, forcing myself to rise to the occasion.
Truly dedicated and passionate about his sport, Wawrinka said about how he approaches his career, “I never start anything (saying) I want to be number one, I want to win a Grand Slam. For me, it’s always step by step. The only thing I want to do is push the limit.”
The other night I found myself routing, from my bed in my NYC apartment, for Stan Wawrinka as he fought through his semifinal match against Roger Federer at the Australian Open. The odds were against him, the crowd was all for Federer, and Stan (aka the Stanimal) also was feeling some pain in his knee, though the way he played you wouldn’t know it. Basically, he was alone out there, with his coach Magnus Norman, and Wawrinka’s parents looking on. After losing the tie break, set point, in the first set, you could see he was upset. Some articles say he was crying under his towel at the change over. I’d never seen that side to him, or any player that I can recall. He was just at a loss. I kept thinking mentally and emotionally, how he would get control, relax and focus. Somehow, he dug deep, took a breathe and pulled himself together to turn things around, winning the 3rd and 4th set. I was furiously clapping my hands, getting more and more energized, even at 4am! So much weighing on him and he hung in there! Confidence building. He was still in it fighting, in the 5th set, though making more errors, which unfortunately lost him the match. It was a disappointment for him but an incredibly exciting match to watch. I even noticed Johnny Mac commenting on how impressed he was by Stan. In the end as Stan the Man gathered his tennis bags, he clapped in thanks to the crowd…the crowd that was already overjoyed for Federer. (and side note, I am very happy for Fed and the upcoming final with Nadal. In fact I’m an hour away from the 3am mark, to cheer them both on!:) )
Moments later at the press conference, which I watched in the late morning, you could see Stan was overcome with sadness, to the point it was difficult to talk. I’m sure all he wanted to do was curl up in a ball and be left alone. I can’t imagine how that felt, so much emotion and fight, not only in that match but throughout the ones leading up to it, only to be disappointed. Now people are tweeting things to point out the good in the situation, to try make him feel better, in response to his own tweet of a photo of himself with his hands over his face. A different type of suffering.
This sounds so familiar (and likely to most people on different levels). I work so hard to get to certain points and struggle and can taste the success, big or small, but it is not to be…at least for that moment. And no matter what others say at the time, who have the best of intentions, it’s hard to bounce back and see the positives. We have all been there. I’ve been there many times. In my own time, I find the strength to find new solutions and learn from defeats. To improve and make it through to the next round. It’s a struggle, a battle within myself mentally, emotionally and physically. And maybe the next round won’t be won or figured out right away.
What am I learning from all this? It’s all about strong belief in yourself. I love reading and hearing these sound bites from my “life coaches,” that reminds me of that. Easy to forget. I think we need people like this. They are there out in the open (no pun intended) for a reason.