Lessons from Djokovic's 2023 Wimbledon Loss

Posted 2 months, 2 weeks ago | Originally written on 17 Jul 2023
  1. The fate of a game is decided on the practice court. When the players step onto the court they are not merely availing their raw talent, however awesome that is. Instead, they are there to present the effectiveness of their practice sessions to overcome the competitor's practice sessions. At the highest levels of sport, how well prepared one side is goes a way towards contributing towards victory. The game is simply a window for each player to present their preparation for that moment. You'll often hear chess players talk about their 'preparation' - they come ready to play a certain position having studied it extensively. Often, a long pause in their game is them analysing lines they may have overlooked or did not anticipate.
  2. Intentions are not reliable. Every player wants to win but we all know that only one winner prevails. Even at the limit of their intentions, however intense they are, players have to still confront the possibility of loss. Therefore, one cannot rely on intentions. On the other hand, the best prepared player can win even if they half show up.
  3. Games are psycological engagements. Nothing is worse for a player than the inevitability of loss. They slowly feel the grip of confidence slip from their hands and will put every effort to marshall their will towards victory. If they can regain control and blunt their opponents confidence, they may be able to overcome the gnawing fear. It doesn't help when spectators ostensibly favour one player over another. To be on the receiving side is a double whammy.
  4. Interesting games are complex. We can never observe the extent of a player's skill. All we can see is the score board and hazard an understanding of their skill by gross metrics e.g. the number of times each player does or does not do a particular action. But the true essence of their skill is hidden. In fact, it is essential to have this hidden so that opponents do not prepare against their weaknesses. The whole point of each unique competitor for any player is to expose a new persective to their skill. For example, Djokovic's game against player A will differ markedly against player B because each of A and B will test different aspects of Djokovic's game. If Djokovic is able to prevail against the majority of players then we can be confident that he has a (hidden) skill level that is ostensibly superior to his competitors. What makes such games interesting (engaging) is that, given that we don't know his true skill, we need to be present at each turn of the game to see which direction it takes.
  5. You cannot count on luck but you cannot do without it either. Even the best preparation can never prevent Lady Luck's presence but preparation should never be designed to take advantage of it. For instance, the way the play offs are drawn up usually has some luck to it. Even in games like chess, where the order of play is based on rating, that rating itself usually has a random element. For example, all new players are simply given a starting rating which will rise or fall depending on their performance at tournaments meaning any player with a true rating below the false rating drawn to play each other will favour the lower rated player implying that by choosing tournaments with more new players is likely to disproportionately favour lower rated players.