Tennis Prose



Is Cockiness An Important Quality For Tennis Success?

By Scoop Malinowski

A former ATP champion made a very interesting comment during a recent conversation…

“You know what is also funny, how many players were sooooo cocky when they were playing and changed completely when they retired…Olivier Delaitre, Petr Korda, Carl-Uwe Steeb to name a few. They would only say hi to and talk to higher ranked players and completely ignore others.”

These are three players I have seen play but never noticed any obscene arrogance or cockiness during their play. So the implication is that these and other cocky players express it carefully and strategically with subtlety, so as not to offend the public or media, but to psyche out and irritate their opponents, rivals and on court enemies. Bjorn Borg did once say he had to hate everyone on the court.

I did not ask this former ATP player for more examples of overt cockiness by ATP players but thinking back on my almost three decades covering tennis as a reporter a couple of memories come to mind. Ivan Lendl use to strut around the US Open locker room wearing only flip flops. Marcelo Rios kicked a tennis ball that whizzed by the ear of Andre Agassi just minutes before their Miami Open final. Andy Roddick looking at himself in the mirror (before a big US Open clash with Federer) and also simultaneously staring down Federer who was sitting behind him. Ivan Ljubicic said F Lopez used to look at himself in the mirror more than the typical player.

I remember asking Boris Becker to do a Biofile in the early 90s at the US Open and he made a memorable excuse to evade the interview: “I’m already famous enough.”

I remember Jan Michael Gambill told me Marcelo Rios was staring him down from across the player’s cafeteria before their match. Jan Mike said he stared Rios down in return which provoked a smile from the usually stoic Chilean.

Then there are the opposite players who perhaps were too nice and too modest and maybe a dose of some cockiness would have helped to produce more victories in their career. Todd Martin, Vince Spadea, Richard Gasquet, Adrian Mannarino, Grigor Dimitrov all seem like they are just too nice to ever flaunt any kind of arrogance for psyche warfare purposes.

Tennis is a mental and physical battle and a gentleman sport where both men are trying to establish and prove their superiority over the other. So expressing cockiness shows a healthy strong ego which is required in one on one sports. A famous boxer once told me “You have to beat the opponent psychologically first, then beating him physically is a lot easier.”

In tennis, cockiness and arrogance are tools used in the process to try to beat the opponent psychologically first.

Maybe Nadal’s fist pumps and Vamoses are tools to intimidate and psyche out all his rivals? Maybe Djokovic roaring and screaming is his chosen medium to announce his superiority complex?

A special, unique formula can produce great tennis success, and cockiness and arrogance surely are ingredients in the mix.

To become the best in the world at anything it requires from the outset the arrogant, crazy, self-centered belief that you are the very best. And then it takes even more to endure all the resistance that will arise along the journey.

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