Andy Roddick and Juan Martin Del Potro battled each other in the US Open Round of 16 on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Roddick announced last Thursday that he would retire following the US Open. The stands were, of course, packed with fans eager to see 2 of the world’s best players and especially to give Roddick a great send-off.
The match was terrific to watch. On Tuesday night, after starting an hour late because of rain, the players had played only one point in the first set tie break before the match was called for the night, same reason.
So this afternoon they went at it again! Although I had a rehearsal, the timing worked out well. I was able to see quite a bit of the end.
Both Roddick and Del Potro have won the US Open in the past; Roddick in 2003 and Del Potro in 2009. The matches always become more competitive during the 2nd week of an Open. These two players were just about even.
While I was watching, the players chased each other, keeping the score even. And then, nearer the end, Del Potro pulled ahead as Roddick began making more errors. As the match came closer and closer to the end, Roddick was crying, along with many of his fans.
What happened next is overwhelmingly my inspiration for writing this post. Del Potro won. There was heartfelt, meaningful conversation between the two players at the net. And then Del Potro, who could have taken the court to celebrate his win, merely walked a step or two from his chair, turned, and extended his arm, gesturing to Roddick. The crowd went wild.
What a wonderful expression of grace. Del Potro didn’t cede his celebration because he had to. It was Andy’s night. I will remember it for a very long time.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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Professional tennis players talk about their struggles on court between what their game plans and their heads tell them to do.
In his new book, Rafael Nadal elaborates. From time to time after planning a point, he changes his mind at the last moment and sends a shot in a different direction, which can result in losing the point.
Taylor Dent, a retired professional player who is now a commentator and coach, talked about the same concept during the US Open. He said you have a little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other. One says, “Do it!” while the other says, “Don’t!”
Do musicians struggle in the same way on stage?
From time to time, perhaps they do.
A cellist I played recitals and competitions for took her performances to gut level, which had nothing in common with our rehearsals. She sounded great! So inspired. But our collaboration suffered.
Sometimes when a singer is nervous or feels under the weather, her/his ability to sing long phrases will be compromised in a concert. When a singer runs out of breath, s/he is going to breathe right there! That changes the breathing scheme practiced in rehearsal, and the collaborating pianist needs to change as well.
How is that done? When the pianist physically breathes with the singer, the pianist can tell when the singer is almost out of air. Throw out the rehearsal plan and go with it!
How tennis matches and concerts are different
In tennis, the player’s opponent is trying to throw him/her off. That should not be the case in chamber music!
In solo recitals, sometimes we can become “inspired” to try something new onstage. For example, I have risked much faster tempi from time to time. When a piece has been performed many times, it’s fun to take chances.
In general, though, we practice t0 eliminate technical issues and arrive at interpretations we know we can perform under pressure. Some musicians may disagree. But I have yet to hear an interview with a musician saying that s/he takes the stage without having made prior decisions. If performance has nothing to do with rehearsal, then why rehearse?
When a tennis player says in a pregame interview that s/he will “do my best,” that is cause for concern. Usually that is a less-experienced player, matched with someone like the phoenomenal Serena Williams. In such cases, you would most likely be correct if you thought the player felt intimidated and didn’t have a game plan.
Concerts are different. We rehearse to make our ensemble better. When we practice on our own, we improve our skills. We don’t spend the time dreaming up ways to throw surprises in the way of the other musicians sharing the stage! Tossing variation in rubato across the stage from one performer to another is one thing. That’s fun! It keeps the music fresh and exciting. But completely reversing rehearsal decisions doesn’t work.
Acoustics in the concert hall can have performers making changes in tempo, bow use, pedal, and articulation. After playing a few concerts where changes like these are required, the situation presented by varying acoustics is something you expect and know how to handle.
Musicians and their own heads
Hopefully, we can deal with our fights with ourselves in our practice sessions. In performances, it is crucial to leave inner conflict related to our non-musical lives (such as the store clerk who was rude 2 hours ago, whether we remembered to lock the door, what’s for dinner) outside the venue. And if a musician wants to take chances during concerts, they would be well advised to let other performers in on the plan, or, if playing solo, be very well prepared.
What, as a musician, is your experience between you and your own head? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
Learning a new piece? New program? Back in school? Looking for teaching ideas? Then this is the perfect time to read “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer!”
This post began as a rant about Novak Djokovic’s attitude. And then I read Bill Keller’s wonderful article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. Keller talks about the effect reading poetry could have on members of Congress.
Djokovic could use some of that, too. Rather than seeing him as self-confident, I think he seems quite arrogant.
- Djokovic never acknowledges his opponents or gives them any credit.
- During the Wimbledon awards ceremony, he ducked behind the line of people on the podium to show the trophy to his team, pointing to himself.
- In an interview, he said he doesn’t think he needs to improve anything.
- He also said that, as #1, he doesn’t need to be any different.
Down the Road
- When he eventually crashes, it’s going to be very painful.
- He’ll be playing tennis by himself! Doesn’t he realize that he needs other players in order to play the game?
- Federer beat him once. It’s going to happen again.
What I Prefer
- Both Nadal and Federer have self-confidence. They are not arrogant. And they have humility, especially Nadal.
- I also think that both Nadal and Federer have more in their game. Djokovic apparently has only one goal: to bulldoze his opponents. That’s it. No style.
- Fans embrace Nadal and Federer immediately. Could that be because these two care about their fans?
According to Geoff MacDonald in the New York Times blog “Straight Sets,”
[Djokovic] “… showed class in defeat, walking around the net to embrace Nadal and congratulate him on his victory…” at the 2010 US Open.
How do you feel about this? Does arrogance have a place in a star’s public image? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
Learning a new piece? New program? Heading back to school? Looking for teaching ideas? Then this is the perfect time to read “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer!”
More tennis! Ready? Wimbledon!
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Although I have been following tennis for about a year, I had known very little about the American Mardy Fish. It was nice to have well-informed, tennis-playing commentators to fill me in.
- He is an underachiever
- At age 29, it’s probably too late for his new-found intensity to be particularly effective
- He doesn’t travel well ~ his championships have all been achieved in the States
- During the first two sets, he appeared to be playing the guy on the other side of the net rather than attending to his job.
My take on the match
That said, he plays so well! That is evidenced by his making the quarterfinals, although I did not watch those matches. (There may be video replays in my future!)
He won the third set against Nadal.
In the third set, Fish’s entire demeanor changed. He stood straight, exuded confidence, and ran for the types of balls he had let go before.
He looked like he was there to play tennis for the first time that day.
What is “nerve?”
Whatever it is, Fish lost it after the third set and Nadal, the quintessential example of an elite player who has “nerve,” won the match.
The commentators talked about “nerve.” They said that the best players may lose their nerve, concentration, or focus, for brief periods. But that’s all. Several of the slightly lower-ranked players also have “it,” but they are inconsistent. Fish, for example, showed flashes of brilliance but was unable to sustain his best level of playing.
What “nerve” is not
… or doesn’t have to be… there are many definitions.
- One can have “nerve” and not be obnoxious
- One can have “nerve” and not be aloof
- One can have “nerve” and not be pushy
Questions for us
Few people can be elite tennis players. But tournament dynamics have many things in common with how the rest of us conduct ourselves every day.
- Would you take the stage in a slumped posture?
- Would you go into a performance without knowing the music?
- Would you allow your life outside of music into your mind during a performance?
- Would you allow yourself to be distracted by everybody else?
Even when performing music that portrays vulnerability, the performer conveys that with the sound, not his or her posture.
- Show up to work
- Do your job
On to the semis!
Nadal won the semifinal against Andy Murray.
Murray played outstanding tennis at the beginning, winning the first set. After that, he missed an easy return and, watching Nadal take advantage and play his best tennis of the tournament, became deflated and never got it back.
Nadal had this to say prior to the Wimbledon semifinal:
“… My foot [injured during Wimbledon] is not fine. But, you know, we are in quarterfinals of Wimbledon. Is an emergency, so I had to play….”
He had an injection to “sleep” the foot. Effective for five hours, it worked. He felt no pain.
I would not go the same route, but musicians have potentially much longer careers than athletes. So maybe it’s a little easier to pass something up in the interest of longevity.
Rafa has described what is needed with these words:
- hard work
Mary Joe Fernandez, while commentating on the semis, said:
“It’s not about the game. It’s about the game you bring with you.“
Correction: the commentator was probably Mary Carillo. The name was not announced, nor was this commentator on screen.
I wonder how many people can verbalize what it takes?
The men’s final, with Nadal vs. Djokovic, is Sunday. Can’t wait!
What do you think? Are you watching Wimbledon? Where does “nerve” belong in your life? In your performances? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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Once again, professional tennis illustrates
a relevant point for musicians.
Two of the 2011 Australian Open men’s quarterfinals showed us what type of behavior is expected from professionals and what is unacceptable.
The effects of not showing up
The first example comes from the Roger Federer vs. Stanislas Wawrinka quarterfinal match.
Rod Laver Arena seats over 14,000 people, and appeared to be filled to capacity. The commentators spoke of the difficulty of obtaining tickets to major events and of their expense.
But Wawrinka wasn’t “there.” He didn’t “show up” for work!
He may have felt intimidated by playing against Federer. Certainly he could have been fatigued from two previous wins, one of which was a long match. And this match, played in the daytime, meant dealing with different climate conditions. According to the commentators, the balls travel faster in warmer temps.
In the bad behavior department, Wawrinka smashed a racquet, resulting in a code violation for racquet abuse; and he lobbed a ball straight up into the air, earning him one of “those looks” from Federer.
The same two players won Olympic gold in Beijing as doubles partners! What happened?
Commentators spoke at length about what this could mean for Wawrinka’s future.
Rafael Nadal’s match against David Ferrer was anything but what most spectators, and Nadal himself, had hoped for. Nadal injured a hamstring in the first set, which adversely affected his playing for the rest of the match.
Watching Nadal’s obvious disappointment during the changeovers was so sad. He cried, looking completely dejected. His dream of holding four majors in a row had suddenly disappeared. I didn’t want match point to come.
Rafa’s always professional demeanor
The example Nadal set by finishing the match was something aspiring professionals should take note of. He was in pain, but never considered withdrawing.* It was obvious, with Ferrer playing his best game and slamming away relentlessly, that Nadal had little or no chance of winning. But he was there. He played the best he could under the circumstances.
Part of me started feeling angry that Ferrer was playing so aggressively, knowing that Nadal was injured. A few Tweeters felt the same way. But the commentators said that’s exactly what he should have done, and that they had expected the same of Wawrinka the day before.
Of course the Australian Open is a competition, not a chamber music concert.
To Ferrer’s credit, in his post-match interview he said, “This is one big victory for me, but it’s not like a victory really. He [Nadal] was playing with injury… and I had luck. But I played my game.”
Nadal was given an incredible standing ovation as he left the court. And Ferrer celebrated on court only briefly.
What does this say for us?
Participate fully, even when:
- not everyone is at the same level
- conditions are less than ideal (cold room, sight lines obscured, etc.)
- the piano is sub-par
- feeling tired
- you disagree w/someone’s interpretation
- you have a problem w/someone’s personality
Merely showing up is never acceptable.
Others in the group need our best effort.
The audience has paid to hear us, some having made quite an effort to get to the concert.
Do you watch sports? Do you draw parallels with being a musician? What have you discovered? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
*I do not advocate playing a musical instrument in pain. However, we would most likely not be injured to this degree during a concert. Our injuries, as I understand them, are usually cumulative.
What I do advocate is finishing the concert with full participation. Whining helps no one.
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On Sunday I watched the men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils in the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo. Since watching the best players is such a draw for me, I’ve been thinking about why that is.
My all-time favorite activity is performing concerts. Professional tennis has a lot in common with that.
Nadal’s uncle Toni, who is also his coach, said in a New York Times interview:
“People see the victories; they don’t see the obstacles…. Rafa has an approach which is very important and that is even if things don’t come quickly, he continues to believe they are going to come, and he is ready to keep trying until they do.”
You know, obstacles like the intense work required, injuries, fatigue, meeting the public even when you’d rather be at dinner or sleeping or seeing a movie….
In other words, it isn’t always fun. I get it, and I’m sure other performers do, too.
Until they have gained a certain amount of experience, music students often see only the end result. After hearing a wonderful performance on CD, it can be very hard to honor the process of getting there. It sounds so easy! When reminded that some musicians spend 10 years or more on a piece before performing it, they honestly can’t believe it.
But that’s what it takes.
- Always practice
- Challenge yourself
- Celebrate your progress
- Acknowledge your failures
- Seek good advice
- When you fall backwards, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again”*
- Never give up
- Always be gracious
- Be ready for surprises
- Be in charge of you
- Know that you’re in it for the long haul
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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