Sports school: mistaken identity

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PROFESSIONAL tennis offers amazing statistics. Many will know that the longest match took place in the first round of Wimbledon in 2010 when John Isner finally beat Nicholas Mahut in five sets after eleven hours and five minutes, closing the final set tie-break 70-68.

On the women’s side, the longest match saw Vicki Nelson defeat Jean Hepner in just two sets in six hours and thirty-one minutes in 1984, with the longest rally lasting an incredible twenty-nine minutes, involving 643 shots!

Neither player wanted to make a mistake, that’s for sure, while in the Isner v Mahut contest, both players made mistakes on several occasions.

Tennis commentators now often speak of forced and unforced errors, although players pay little attention to them.

The most forced errors (at a Grand Slam tournament) happen at Wimbledon, probably because the courts are faster.

The fewest such errors occur at Roland Garros, where the clay court is slower, giving players more time to play – Simona Halep made just three unforced errors when she defeated Serena Williams in the 2019 Wimbledon final.

Interestingly, the highest number of unforced errors by a player who won the match is 112, which happened twice, at Roland-Garros (Evgueni Kafelnikov had this number of unforced errors when he beat Fernando Vicente in five sets there in 2000, as did Nikolay Davydenko when he beat Lleyton Hewitt in four sets in 2003).

We could also think about what is called a “Golden Set” (where a player loses no points by winning the set 6-0), a feat that has happened twice in tournament tennis, the occasion the most notable being when Yaroslava Suvedova won a set over Sara Errani at Wimbledon in 2012 without dropping a point (weeks after Errani lost the French Open final to Maria Sharapova).

In this set, the winner would appear to have made no mistakes, although closer examination may reveal that she made mistakes but they were not punished.

Of course, we can ask ourselves if there really is a difference between a forced error and an unforced error, and even if there is, whether it is necessary to distinguish between them – an error is an error and the two can be expensive.

An unforced error has been defined as occurring when the player “is under no physical pressure due to the placement, pace, power, or rotation of the opponent’s shot”.

The fact is that in sports, no matter how many mistakes a player makes, he can always win a game.

We must seek to eliminate our errors, without a doubt.

Indeed, the principle that all athletes, whether in an attacking or defensive position, must follow is to make the opponent commit the error, and not to make the error ourselves.

Defenders should not dive randomly but should wait for the attacker to make the mistake; likewise, attackers should not act extravagantly but wait for the defender to make the mistake of diving, losing balance, mispositioning, before beating his opponent.

We must not make it easy for our adversary by making the mistake, but we must force him into a situation where he is making a mistake. The 643 stroke tennis rally mentioned above would suggest that both players were waiting for the other to make the mistake.

We would therefore do well to remember and even teach that in life as in sport, the principle applies that, even if we seek to eliminate mistakes from our lives, we can still achieve our goals even when we we make mistakes. We should not seek so much to make those around us make mistakes, but rather we should strive to avoid making them ourselves. We should focus on our own life.

The fact is that our identity as a person and as a player is tied to our mistakes.

We all make mistakes. However, we will be identified and defined by whether we avoid making mistakes and also how we react to our mistakes when they happen and how we take advantage of our mistakes and those of others.

We should be serious about eliminating mistakes from our own lives – after all, we can’t lose a game if we don’t concede a goal.

However, we can still win a game even if we concede two goals or even more. Isner lost 68 points in the tiebreaker but still won as he scored 70!

Children have to learn from life’s mistakes and they’ll have no better place to do that than on the sports field – no mistakes!

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