On 27th January 2007, Serena Williams defeated Maria Sharapova in the final of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in Melbourne.
She not only defeated her; she wiped the floor with her. Serena's victory was described as the demolition of the world's number one female tennis player.
Both Maria and Serena had parents who had taught them from childhood: “You can do it!"
Both believed their parents and had put in the work to support their belief. Maria is probably one of the best prepared women on the tour and has a record second to none.
Maria's dad, Yuri, had gone to America prepared to do any job to support his daughter as she developed her tennis skills. She trained hard for hours every day.
The Williams family had believed for years that Venus and Serena would be number one and two in the world. Mr Williams made sure they worked hard to achieve this dream which many described as impossible.
Both Serena and Maria badly wanted to win the tournament. What made the difference? No one can say for sure but probably Serena wanted to win more.
Her desire for victory was probably greater than Maria's. Her will to win was enormous and, once she was ahead, she was determined not to let Maria into the match.
Sam Smith, the outstanding UK commentator, pointed out that Serena was so unconditioned at the start of the tournament that she had to stop in the middle of a rally to get her breath back:.
"Serena should have been on the plane back home half way through the tournament but she has just imposed her will on all the players including Sharapova. "
As Serena played on through the tournament winning victory after victory, she became fitter and stronger and was a different player by the time the final arrived.
She was back to her best and looked like the Serena Williams of old. Her stunning performance from the start of the final shocked Maria who looked as if she did not know what had hit her.
Serena got on top from the start of the match and, once on top, it is much easier to stay on top. If you start late and are down a few games, it takes a huge extra effort to come back.
Serena looked totally focussed and aggressive. She even glared at Maria when Maria, who was none too happy with the role of loser, hit a winner by aiming the ball directly at Serena!
The glare was so dramatic that, when it was shown on the replay screen, the entire audience laughed!
Serena showed mental toughness throughout the match if you define mental toughness as staying in the moment and focusing on every action you take.
She looked as if she was in a prize fight where every move could mean defeat or victory.
When the match was over, Serena changed totally and was like a young girl celebrating her first victory.
She laughed and danced around and gave a gracious speech giving some words of praise to Maria.
At the start of the tournament the odds were 179 to 1 against Serena but Serena had so much self-belief that she would probably still have put money on herself to win. By the start of the final the odds had changed to only 2 to 1 against Serena.
Some respected pundits had said that Serena was done, finished and no longer a force in the women's game. In Australia it had been especially tough. They really wrote her off.
Criticism subdues a weak person; it can inspire a strong person. After 63 minutes of the final Serena had moved from 81 in the world to 14.
In her winner's speech, Serena dedicated her win to her dead elder sister ‘Yetunde’ who had been shot dead in 2003. In all her matches Serena writes notes to guide her priorities:
"Usually I write: ‘look at the ball, move forward, do this, do that. ’ Today I just had one word - ‘Yetunde’. Every changeover I looked at it and I just thought of how happy she would have been; how much she always supported me. I just thought about what an amazing sister she was to me. I just said, ‘Serena, this has to be motivating. This has to be more than enough to motivate me, ’ and I think it was. "
Her desire to win had been been fuelled by her love for her dead sister and her written reminder of who she was playing for. Possibly, her reaction to the humiliation of being classified as finished and as number 81 in the world. also played a part.
An English commentator remarked at the end of the final:
"I didn't know she wanted it that bad. Some people said she was finished but she's not and she's back on the world stage. This is her eighth title and you wonder if this was the sweetest of all. "
The words of Lee Iacocca, the automobile executive, sum up part of Serena's attitude at least:
“You’ve got to say, ‘I think if I keep working at this and want it badly enough, I can have it. ’”
We all need to believe like Serena and Maria that we can win or succeed. We all need to work hard but to achieve the big prizes we may need the extra motivation of our love for our family whether they are alive or dead.
We may need to believe that God is on our side. It also helps if we get off to a good start and feel the power that comes from being humiliated by the criticism of others or ourselves.
We should remind ourselves daily of Lee Iacocca's words: “I think if I keep working at this and want it badly enough, I can have it. "
Maria's reaction to her defeat is worth emulating. She praised Serena's flawless tennis which did not allow her to get into the match and she looked at the positives:
“It’s definitely not the end of the world, ” she said. “Got to the final of my first tournament this year. There’s a lot to be proud of. ”
It is worth remembering our past successes even if we didn't win. People, who succeed most, often fail most. They are willing to face the risk of failure in their pursuit of victory. They bounce back from defeat and keep believing, desiring and working for success.
There is no reason why we cannot do the same.
About the author
John Watson has written several ebooks on motivation, success and goal achievement. One of his main ebooks ‘36 Laws’ is at http://www.motivationtoday.com/36_laws.php Any one of the 36 laws can change your life.