Last week, I wrote about Novak Djokovic's impressive win over Rafael Nadal to seal the deal at Indian Wells. This week, Djokovic continues his tear in Miami, advancing to the 4th Round by brutally dismissing former world No. 4 and Harvard man, James Blake, by the unsavory score of 6-2, 6-0. I'm not sure I've ever seen Blake on the wrong-end of such a scoreline, but based on who he was playing today, it almost seemed inevitable. Indeed, Novak dropped only one game prior to this 3rd Round encounter against Blake; and en route to winning the Indian Wells title last week, also served up three bagels in three straight-set victories over three quality players (all inside the Top 40): Andrey Golubev, Ernests Gulbis, and countryman Viktor Troicki. The key to Novak's success? In a word: expectation.
Today's edition of Acting Tips For Tennis Players/Tennis Tips For Actors examines this edge. Expectation creates energy in a performance. It creates excitement. It creates electricity. It creates enthusiasm. And in tennis, it creates a habit of winning. Conversely, a character who is unenthusiastic and has no expectation of success is uninteresting to watch on any stage; and their tennis results will also follow the self-fulfilling prophesy. I myself was guilty of this when I recently played against a current NCAA Division I player (losing by the same scoreline that Denis Istomin lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2nd Round of the Sony Ericsson Open earlier this week). My mindset going into the match was: "This guy's 6'4"; I'm old enough to be his father; he plays top singles and doubles for his school; and, did I mention, he's 6'4"?" Clearly, I did not expect to win that day; and I forgot the cardinal rule of good tennis, good theatre, and a good life: have good expectations. Because even if you don't always achieve your expectations, you'll still be a winner for giving yourself a shot, and because an audience's empathy comes from its identification with your expectations and your pursuit of it. That's why we appreciate the player with belief rather than the one with slumped shoulders. That's why we root for the player brimming with confidence, and angrily try to lift the ones that look defeated before it's over.
We've all seen it. Consider the relative expectations of Roger Federer versus those of his opponents over the better part of the last decade. Roger exuded an air of royalty whenever he stepped onto Centre Court at SW19, a place he owned from 2003-2007. During his dominance of the sport, he often won his matches before they started due to a combination of his expectation of winning and his opponent's lack thereof. There was one notable exception during this period: Rafael Nadal. Recently, the pendulum of expectations has swung for another player: Novak Djokovic.
As I mentioned last week, Novak Djokovic has now overtaken Roger Federer in the South African Airways ATP world tour rankings (though Roger will forever remain a favorite with this author). Nole's new found expectations of tennis greatness has transformed him into the latest superstar of tennis and relegated the rest of the field into purely functional roles in the drama. Most players would not expect to beat James Blake 2 and 0 in front of Blake's home crowd, on his favorite surface, and in a night match. But, then again, Djokovic has come to expect the unexpected. And I expect we'll see a lot more of this from the young Serb.
So what can we learn from these tennis heros (for tennis, for acting, and in life)? Always expect victory - with whatever you've identified as your objective - whether it's that you'll never miss a shot, that you'll win the tournament, or that you'll get the girl (or boy), or get cast in a play. Because whatever the end result may or may not be, you can be sure of one thing: the expectation will be fun to watch!