I don't usually do book reviews, but I figured I'd throw one out there. I just finished reading Rafael Nadal's autobiography "Rafa" the other day. While it wasn't the best book I've ever read, it did provide a great look into the mind of a tennis champion.
I was never really a big fan of Nadal but after reading more about his journey to the top of the tennis world and gaining some insight into how he thinks during his matches, he grew on me. Mostly because when he described his mental game during his incredible 2008 Wimbledon win, among others, I was able to connect with the things he was saying in relation to how I felt as I went on to win the 2011 USA Memory Championship.
The 2011 championship for me, felt mostly like a tennis match between Ron White and I. Ron White, the two-time champion (the Roger Federer of memory) had stolen the win from me in 2010 (you could say he had the mental edge on that one, managing to stay focused and cool under pressure while I did not), and there I was in 2011 battling to the same exact spot I had been in the year before, head-to-head against Ron White.
We went into the final event, where we were given 2 decks of cards to memorize in 5 minutes, knowing that it was going to go until the very end. But I was composed this year. I had matured a lot after having stared at myself in the mirror for a long time after losing in 2010. I knew what I had to do and I knew how to do it.
I memorized both decks. A gamble for sure...but something I had done numerous times in practice without any mistakes. Ron White, while I wondered if he had upped his training to manage two full decks in 5 minutes this year, went for a safe, yet solid, deck and a half. The idea: go a bit slower, make SURE to know all the cards. My idea: go fast, hope that it all sticks.
So there we were on stage. Him, with the solid composure and experience of 2 previous championships under his belt. Me, with a young temperment and the sting of losing in 2010 burned deep in my mind. We sat there reciting the decks, one card each, back and forth - like two professionals rallying in tennis. I didn't even think about whether I knew the rest of the deck, my strategy was to blurt them out as fast as I could to shake Ron's nerves. You only get 15 seconds to say each card, so if your brain suddenly shuts off, as it can often do without warning, you can lose.
I remembered how in 2010 Ron had recited his cards slowly and I knew it was because he wanted to make ABSOLUTELY sure he didn't mess up. He didn't. But now here I was using that to my advantage. He would take 5-8 seconds to say each of his cards, pass me the mic, then I would quickly fire back the next card in 1 second, then return the mic immediately back to him. He was definitely taken aback with my speed and even though I will never know for sure, I assume it also threw his game off a little. But he held the rally. It kept going back and forth, until finally, he ran out. I had out-muscled him. My gamble had paid off. We had made it to his last-memorized, 72nd card. He had nothing left.
I proudly said the next card with a feeling of elation. A feeling as if a huge weight had fallen off of my shoulders. I had never worked so hard for anything in my entire life and it had paid off. Hours and hours of training. Staying in when all my friends were going out. Days of solitude in my room staring at numbers and cards. It had all paid off.
Back to the book. Rafa details his journey to winning all of the Major titles and I couldn't help but relate to the fact that his winning was a result of his hard work. Federer was better than him, just naturally a beast, but Nadal, like me, won on pure gut, stamina, and hard work.
I'm not saying I'm anything close to Nadal. Not at all. He is an incredible athlete and has proven to be one over his long and successful career. But reading his book allowed me, and should allow anyone with a competitive spirit, to piggyback on his champion mentality. It's definitely a great read for anyone who enjoys competition and wants to know what it's like at one of the highest levels.