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“The only way is up.” – Novak Djokovic

After beating Roger Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon men’s final, Novak Djokovic said, “The only way is up.” The win gave him his 16th Grand Slam title, and in a post-match interview, he made it clear that his sights are set on surpassing Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles. There can be no denying that Djokovic and Federer are great rivals, but does rivalry lead to better performances?

“That’s what I’m aiming for. History is on the line. Grand Slams are a priority at this stage of my career without a doubt, and the historic number one which is not so far away.” – Novak Djokovic

Djokovic’s win at Wimbledon marked his 261st week as the world’s No.1 men’s tennis player. Federer holds the record with his 310-week reign at the top, so the “historic number one” really isn’t so far away, but does having a rival make you perform better? This is the question Professor Gavin Kilduff from the New York University Stern School of Business set about answering in a recent study.

“I have found rivalry to be a powerful motivator.” – Professor Kilduff

Through his research, Professor Kilduff found that rivalry can lead to better performances, with a rival effectively being used as fuel to push harder and train harder to achieve more and become better. In long-distance running, for example, he noted that having a rival in a race could boost an athlete’s performance by as much as five seconds per kilometre compared to races in which the rival wasn’t present, saying, “Put simply, people are more motivated when competing against their rivals as opposed to non-rival competitors with who they do not share the same history.”

A great rivalry is a shared history in competition. Federer has won Wimbledon eight times, Djokovic five, and three of those five wins were against Federer. However, the battle to go down in history as the greatest male tennis player of all time is not just a two-man race; Rafael Nadal currently has 18 Grand Slam titles to his name, making it a three-man race at the sharp-end of tennis. Former player and three-time Wimbledon winner Boris Becker puts it this way: “This endless talk of who will be the most successful will continue as long as all three of them are playing.”

You see, all three are champion players, and all three are rivals. They’re competitive professionals and they’re out to win every game they play, but there’s a difference between competition and rivalry. Win a competition against a non-rival, and you win prize money and all the other trappings, but win a competition against a rival, and you win so much more. The shared history brings a psychological and emotional element to the game, not only providing the fuel that drives a best performance, but also a sense of your self-worth and legacy being at stake… a win against a rival means more.

The 2019 Wimbledon men’s singles final lasted 4 hours and 57 minutes, making it the longest singles final in Wimbledon history. Both players wanted to win, but not just for the prize pot and the title, they wanted to beat their rival, and that rivalry saw both men lift their performance time and time again.

“When the last point is done, we are humans. Give your opponent a hug and say, ‘great fight,’ and that’s all.” – Novak Djokovic

Don MacNaughton is a High-Performance Coach and has worked tirelessly to help clients achieve success in the world of sport and business over the past 15 years.   The next, highly popular, NLP Diploma and Life Coaching Certificate course starts in September 2019.  Click here for more information or to sign up.







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