For the past two weeks tennis players from around the world met on the red clay courts of Roland Garros Stadium in Paris to compete in one of the sport’s four major tournaments. As I watched I was reminded yet again of how much athletic competition can teach us. Here’s a sampler of philosophical wisdom showcased at the 2012 French Open:
1) Tennis: Hit the ball on the rise, getting the most power from taking the ball early. Life: Take advantage of opportunity without hesitation. Don’t let the ball drop and miss your chance.
2) Tennis: Get the first serve in, ruling out a double fault. Life: Create the best odds for your success. Do yourself favors. Make it as easy as possible.
3) Tennis: Keep your eye on the ball, concentrate on nothing else, just this ball right here. Life: Focus on the task at hand, only that, for the best immediate results as well as a calm mental attitude.
4) Tennis: Injuries can be overcome with gritty determination. Maria Sharapova fought back from major shoulder surgery to win it all. Rafael Nadal's style of play repeatedly returns him to the trainer's table, his feet, ankes, legs worn and hurt. Nadal fought through knee rehab to the championship trophy. Life: Hard work pays off. Stick with it.
5) Tennis: When your strategy isn’t working, change it. Serve with more spin, drop shot and lob, charge the net, maybe stay way back when your opponent serves, or dash forward … Life: Don’t keep repeating broken patterns. Be flexible and change course. Snap out of it!
6) Tennis: The big number of winners you hit is not nearly as important as your low number of unforced errors. In their match, Roger Federer made 46 unforced errors and Novak Djokovic 17. Result: Djokovic wins in three easy sets. Life: Steadiness wins.
7) Tennis: Unheralded Sara Errani reaches the women’s final. Life: The sky is the limit (or is it?!).
8) Tennis: Sportsmanship elevates the game and the humanity of players and fans as well. Win or lose, Rafael Nadal’s self-effacing graciousness is legendary. “I feel really bad for him,” he says of a defeated opponent. Life: It is indeed how you play the game. Competitive fire and modesty can coexist.
9) Tennis: Nadal wins his record-breaking 7th French Open championship, displaying his unique, unorthodox, breathtaking skills. Life: Do it your way. Invent your style.
10) Tennis: Sharapova’s greatest weakness, an unreliable, unruly serve becomes her strength. Life: Know your weak spots and go after them. Improvement is always an option.
11) Tennis: Behold the unadulterated joy of the competitors. Life: Play more.
12) Tennis: A crowd in Paris stands to honor the playing of the Russian and Spanish national anthems, multilingual athletes thank their parents and the fans, commentators conduct interviews in several languages and everyone does their best. Life: Differences can be bridged: by a sport, by music, by open hearts and minds.