What the New York Times called “one of the greatest tennis matches ever played” between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer ended last night, with Nadal winning a five-hour match (in near darkness)  6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7. It was the longest singles final in Wimbledon history, and without doubt the best. Nadal took the first two sets. Federer fought back doggedly to win the next two, in tie-breakers. The fifth and deciding set was tied 6-6. Normally there would be another tie-breaker. But not at Wimbledon, where strict rules prevail (players without exception must wear all-white clothing, for instance). There, the final set is played out, even in doubles, until one of the players leads by two sets – even if it means playing to 17-15. 

Picture: Rafael Nadal

What can innovators learn from this amazing final – apart from courage, stamina, persistence, will to win, character and fierce determination, shown by both players? 

On Israel’s Channel 55, the commentary (in Hebrew) was awful. Both commentators kept saying, “lo ye-amen” (unbelievable) or simply Wow! But one commentator did note a key fact.  

“Nadal’s advantage was not only his physical athletic ability,” he said. “He has mental strength. He does not think about the past. He does not think about the future. He is totally focused in the point he is playing NOW. This is a huge advantage.”

For instance, the umpire chastised Nadal for taking too long with his service. This might have rattled many players. But Nadal remained totally focused. He had a game strategy, he stuck to it, and did not change it even when he lost two sets. He was completely immersed in the present.

In his best-selling book The Power of Now  (Thomson Press, Delhi, India, 2001), Eckhart Tolle notes, “most people are always trying to escape from the present moment and are seeing some kind of salvation in the future.”   

This is true of innovators. They are fueled by dreams of some outstandingly successful future. This of course is important; an energizing vision is crucial. But it is far more important, after the vision is established, to shelve it and focus intensely on the present – on what is required at the present moment in order to implement the future vision. Forget past failures. Forget future dreams. Focus on the practical things you need to do today, now, to succeed. 

That is what Nadal did. And because he did it so well, it helped him fulfill his childhood dream – playing at Wimbledon, and ultimately, winning at Wimbledon.