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Breakdowns Before Breakthroughs

The dictionary defines phenomenon as 'something (such as an interesting fact or event) that can be observed and studied and that typically is unusual or difficult to understand or explain fully'. And that is a good way to describe this difficult period in a player's career. When choking and shock losses take a man to the brink and beyond and dampen even the brightest of dreams.

While Andre Agassi had to go all the way back to the ATP Challenger circuit to find his game before he could return to grand slam greatness, others players may have had less dramatic solutions. But make no mistake, there is no escaping professional tennis' ultimate test for greatness.

For a player stuck in the breakdown stage it often seems like a minefield full of traps and setbacks. Many a player has disappeared never to be seen again because they could not handle the disappointment.

For more than 35 years, coach Chuck Kriese has studied the careers of players making the transition from the various levels of professional tennis and for the elite ones; from good to great. If there is one thing that Kriese is certain is that, "breakdowns almost always come before breakthroughs."

"I have observed good players make dramatic breakthroughs to higher levels immediately after what they perceive to be the brink of disaster," Kriese begins. "There is just something about a gut-wrenching loss and a few setbacks where you start to question is it really worth all the effort and sacrifice. Self-doubt creeps in and trust begins to fade away. The player has two choices: make a stand and fight or retreat to where there is less pressure and pain. Some go forward and others crack."

A good example to consider is Andy "My take on this is that the pain and Murray losing the final of the 2012 heartbreak is really the critical ingredient for Wimbledon finals. Losing that match to the last little bit to push you through that Roger Federer brought Murray to tears. breakthrough that you have trained for and "It's hard, it's tough to take, but you waited on for so long," Kriese begins. need to show strength of character to come "Perhaps breakthroughs finally happen back from it," said Murray at the time.

A good example to consider is Andy Murray losing the final of the 2012 Wimbledon finals. Losing that match to Roger Federer brought Murray to tears.

"It's hard, it's tough to take, but you need to show strength of character to come back from it," said Murray at the time.

Support and wisdom from Lendl provided Murray with the strength and game plan to recover quickly and limit the psychological damage. Two weeks later he won the Olympics, followed by the US Open and twelve months later he became the Wimbledon champion.

Many tennis experts have said that the pain of that loss to Federer at Wimbledon provided the fuel booster to Murray's greatest triumph; Wimbledon champion a year later.

So how did Murray reverse his fortunes? The answer is very simple; he did the next right thing.

I had heard of coach Kriese's theory on breakdowns before breakthroughs and managed to spend some time with him where he was able to elaborate on it. It makes for fascinating listening where Kriese has loads of files with player activity to support his theory.

"My take on this is that the pain and heartbreak is really the critical ingredient for the last little bit to push you through that breakthrough that you have trained for and waited on for so long," Kriese begins. "Perhaps breakthroughs finally happen because the player has already gone through so much that he isn't afraid of it anymore. I once heard Mats Wilander say, 'the best players really improve when they embrace the pain; turn bad pain into good pain; and then they go forward."

Remember that epic match between Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka in the round of 16 at the 2013 Australian Open? What a gut wrenching loss for Stan. And then another five set loss to Novak in the US Open semifinals later that year. How did Stan respond to having his heart ripped out twice in grand slams in one year? He made no excuses and doubled down on the training. Fast forward to 2014 Australia Open and Stan Wawrinka finally got his well-earned breakthrough by winning his first grand slam.

"Sometimes, the pain of a loss causes us to withdraw energy and passion," Kriese explains. "We don't commit 100 percent to our mission. And then when the pressure comes once more, we fail by not giving our best. This can become a continuous cycle that becomes a very hard one to break. It can throw a career off-course for sure. Get your heart broke enough times and then you start giving less than your best emotional energy and stopped trying as hard except to come up with mysterious injuries and multiple excuses."

"Tough losses are usually career changing opportunities. An experienced coach can recognize this immediately. They wait to see if player withdraws energy, make excuses and come up with mysterious injuries; or if they completely invest their hearts one more time. A dramatic breakthrough can be right around the corner," says Wawrinka's coach, Magnus Norman, GPTCA national president of Sweden.

The value of an experienced coach cannot be taken for granted. Take GPTCA National President of France, Patrick Mouratoglou, for example. When Serena lost in the first round of the 2012 French Open first round to world ranked #111 Virginie Razzano, Mouratoglou was asked to join the team as head coach and find and fix the problem. Enter Patrick Mouratoglou. He brought a different approach to the Williams camp, one that used a lot of technology and match video analysis. He came up with a logical step by step plan of action. What happened next is tennis history. Serena Williams went on to win Wimbledon, Olympics, US Open and the French Open the following year.

"The best players truly love to win and hate to lose," Kriese says. "When you really burn for it and care with all your heart, it will hurt deeply when you lose. The most important thing is to keep putting your heart on the court each and every match and doing the next right thing regardless of the result."


Robert Davis has over 22 years experience as a professional tennis coach. He has served as Technical Director and National Coach for Peru, Panama, Thailand, Indonesia and currently, Myanmar. President of the GPTCA Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. Davis can be contacted via email at [email protected].


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Colette Lewis has covered topflight junior events as a freelance journalist for over a decade. Read her weekly column, follow her on Twitter, and and find more of her daily commentary at ZooTennis.

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