With the US Open coming into the decisive phase, it’s crunch time in Flushing Meadows for the big three players, namely Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. After what we have seen so far this year, the clear favorite to win can be no one else but Djokovic.
The number 1 player in the ATP ranking is in incredible form. In 2011, he only lost two matches (one against Federer, one against Andy Murray) while winning 62. The last time a player had stats like this at this time of the year was John McEnroe back in 1984.
An interesting comparison. If you ask people about McEnroe, most will answer with mentioning his discussions with umpires and his joking on the court. The fact that he was one of the greatest players of all time, a player with a feel for the ball that has probably never been matched in history, will only come second. The same with Djokovic: He is able to play like a genius (coaching legend Nick Bollettieri believes he is “the most complete player of all time”), but he still has the image of the “DjokerNole” (which by the way is also his Twitter handle), a player ready to mock his opponents or do jokes on and off the court at all time.
His style of play, combining technique, agility and feeling, is less straight forward than those of perfectionist Federer or powerful Nadal. However, despite all his performance advantages, his two main rivals are earning a lot more money than the Serbian idol. While Federer ranks #30 in the Forbes list of celebrities’ gross income (May 2010 to May 2011) and Nadal #58, Djokovic didn’t even make the top 100, for all millions of dollars won at the tournaments he played. The problem: He doesn’t score the big advertising and endorsement deals.
While Federer is a perfect match for brands that stand for reliability and high quality like his sponsors Credit Suisse, Rolex or Mercedes-Benz, cool and powerful Nadal promotes cool and stylish brands such as Giorgio Armani and Bacardi. And while Federer and Nadal are dressed in their own colorful Nike collections, Djokovic looks more like a player from the 1980’s in Wimbledon than from the 2010’s in New York, wearing his old school white Sergio Tacchini clothes (his former sponsor Adidas decided not to extend his endorsement deal two years ago).
Federer and Nadal are more mainstream compatible, so despite their lower performance as compared to Djokovic, they get better returns.
In companies, there are Federer, Nadal and Djokovic types of people, too.
There are the Federers, which are the reliable ones that don’t harm or mock anybody. You can always count on them. Then, there are the powerful, Nadal-type ones, those that always play hard and try to overpower their opposition. And there are the Djokovic-types. Those with a lot of feeling, agility and maybe humor.
But just like Djokovic doesn’t get the expensive endorsement deals Federer and Nadal receive, the latter often don’t receive the same recognition and rewards as the reliable or powerful ones.
That’s a mistake. As a tennis “customer”, I would always prefer watching Djokovic over Nadal or Federer, as he is more likely to develop some “magic” in his play, those moments that make the difference.
In companies, where making a difference is the basis of success, it should be a no-brainer to hire or develop more Djokovic types. It should be but – it isn’t.
The reason is, again, mainstream compatibility.
Still, the mainstream opinion decides. The opinion of the reliable or powerful ones that are taking decisions today. And too often they opt for those that are like themselves.
Hiring a Djokovic or a McEnroe seems like a risk to them, as they don’t know what they can expect in return. But both examples, Djokovic and McEnroe, performed. They outperformed all others. Being unusual doesn’t mean they aren’t serious – that’s a common misunderstanding. Often they work harder than anyone else.
Djokovic looked like the World’s eternal #3 until last year, then he changed his training routine and diet completely, even completely revamped his service technique. The hard work payed off.
And McEnroe, who won his first Grand Slam tournament in 1979, improved further so that by 1984, when winning both Wimbledon and the US Open, he dominated the finals against Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl. Especially the Wimbledon final, a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 execution of Connors showed the development.
Power players can only improve by becoming more powerful. Reliable ones can only stay reliable. Creative, empathic ones have way more room for development.
Note: Earlier this week, Djokovic communicated that he found a new sponsor: A Swiss luxury watch brand. Federer and Nadal are both also sponsored by watch companies. It seems like Djokovic is catching up in this category, too.