This is the opinion of Vincenzo Santopadre, coach of tennis champion Matteo Berrettini, who reached the final at Wimbledon in 2021.
“If you want to aspire to be a champion in tennis, go to a restaurant and test yourself, if you get nervous because they are making you wait to serve you, let go of all ambitions and start doing something else.”
Santopadre’s test fits perfectly, given that an English research has shown that we begin to lose patience in restaurants after just eight minutes of waiting.
Santopadre’s comments are an invitation to patience, but also to education.
“That’s right. We are used to having everything immediately. And to claim it with little effort, with a click at your fingertips. In sport — but not only in this one arena — one must instead learn to sow over time and to know how to wait, in an active way, even if perhaps the hoped-for fruit is not harvested. Because the beauty of a result lies more in the path we have taken to achieve it. In short, you are a champion if you respect certain values.”
And to what extent does it matter to be educated?
“The mentality of a true athlete is formed by respecting the other professional. Like, how you should respect the waiter.”
Let’s go back to the restaurant metaphor…
“I’ll explain. Maybe you are waiting longer than usual because the waiter is probably serving someone who arrived before you; or maybe there are chefs struggling with the many unexpected events in the kitchen. Tennis is an individualistic sport that risks making you focus only on yourself and lose a certain vision of the whole, such as considering the work of others. On the contrary, you have to accept being part of a process in which nothing is owed to you or taken for granted.”
Sometimes we tend to associate the champions with genius, that is, something that’s innate to them, while underestimating the importance of working on yourself to grow.
“I fight a lot for a certain sporting culture, at times I’m a fugitive. And it is precisely the word ‘talent’ that generates the most confusion.”
What do you mean?
“For example, Roger Federer is said to have an innate talent. But seeming predestined was not enough to become the champion he is. He, too, had to walk a path of heavy training, commitment, and development of willpower. He could’ve become a great athlete without having innate genius abilities.”
Like Matteo Berrettini.
“Yes, at first no one would have bet on him, because we are often enchanted by apparent qualities. But Matteo has an invisible talent, he believes in the culture of work, resilience and fatigue. Many naturally gifted kids get lost easily on the street because they don’t have this mentality.”
Becoming a good athlete also means knowing how to lose. How do you learn from defeats?
“Matteo represents an example of those who are moulded by defeats. I am not referring only to the disappointments felt upon returning from injury in Monte Carlo in the match against Davidovich Fokina; or to the loud blow Federer made him suffer two years ago and which he still remembers today, absurdly, with pleasure. The key to improving is in the interpretation that is given to these events — welcoming failure as part of a path of growth.”
Doesn’t he think that the controversy that has been unleashed over the behavior of the English national football team during the award ceremony at the Euro final is also the result of a culture that, unlike tennis, does not cultivate respect for the winners?
“I think these things start from afar, from how they helped you interpret a defeat. For example, if you haven’t learned to accept that you can give one hundred percent but you can’t always achieve a positive result. The English were very convinced of winning; even, some fans are said to have petitioned to have a day off at work and celebrate the Euro title. There was a climate around the English national team of great security. And this I think has favoured a reaction that I do not consider sporty. If I had been an English fan I would not have left before the awards ceremony, I would have stayed at the stadium, thanked and applauded my players and paid tribute to those who were stronger. I don’t want to condemn or judge them, I say this by evaluating things from outside. In tennis, on the other hand, there is an etiquette that helps you over time to internalize certain values — not only in a formal sense — even if they do not initially belong to you.”
How can Berrettini promote a “winning” idea of tennis?
“Mainly by remaining himself. Because he has a clean face, he has the ability to be a great fighter on the court, never giving up. And he does it with a sporting loyalty which — which is no small feat — is also recognized by his colleagues. Of course, he can happen to experience episodes of impatience or nervousness. But Matteo doesn’t have to try to be a good example. He is like that.”