“If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
As two supreme athletes and claimants of greatest of all time in their trade lock each other in battle for the 35th time in their career at SW19, its Shiji to apply General Tzu’s strategy.
I. Laying Plans
The art of war in tennis is governed by many factors. Few of them are:
I. Surface adaptability
II. Accurate serve
III. Scornful response to serve however mighty
IV. Impenetrable forehand
V. Aggressive backhand
VI. Insurmountable ground strokes
VII. Ground coverage
The two warriors have proved in the past that they are the masters in laying plans. The two master strategists who are enabling them have had their own share of battles in the past and Boris Becker has triumphed 25 out of the 35 times. On the Wimbledon grass surface the silky elegance of Stefan Edberg has triumphed 2-1 over Becker. Every plan will be, rest assured, in detail as the battle is expected to take the rivalry of both the warriors and their strategists to a whole new dimension. This is a dimension where tennis enthusiasts and fanatics admire the battle forgetting the ornery tribulations of their lives.
II. Waging War
General Tzu says when you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. This is particularly true for one of the warriors who is 32 and is the oldest finalist in a Grand Slam since Agassi who was 35. At the All England Club he will be the oldest finalist since Ken Rosewall who was 39 in 1974. At 32, he is battle weary and if the victory is long in coming, his ardor will be damped. In this aspect General Tzu’s advice of “In war, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns” works well for the 32 year old but working against the advice could work in favor of the 27 year old.
III. Attack By Stratagem
The general’s stratagem for the warriors: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” The laying of plans is very critical to the attack by stratagem. Since both the warriors know each other well but might be surprised by the multiple factors if not accounted in laying plans, a surreptitious attack from either could prove fatal for the other. In a Grand Slam final, both have battled only once in USO 2007 and it was a mismatch with the older warrior dismissing the younger with disdain. So, a Wimbledon final contest is a new terrain and the strategies are very critical.
IV. Variation in tactics
“When in difficult country do not encamp. Do not linger in dangerously isolated positions. In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In desperate position, you must fight.” The older warrior has already won on this surface 7 times while the younger has won it once. In the last 6 Grand Slam finals they have played, the older has won 4 while the younger warrior has won only 1. The variation of tactics is very critical. In the semifinals when Dimitrov was averaging 67% for > 3000rpm on backhand slices, it definitely troubled the tactics of the younger warrior. The older warrior is a master at such variation in tactics. This has to be dealt with attack by stratagem.
V. The Nine Situations
The Art of War recognizes nine grounds. Out of them the relevant grounds for the SW19 battle are:
- Dispersive Ground: “When a warrior is fighting in his own territory, it is dispersive ground”
The older warrior has a disposition that suits the grass surface and he is tied with Sampras for winning on this surface 7 times making this his dispersive ground.
- Facile Ground:” When he has penetrated in to hostile territory but to no great distance, it is facile ground.”
The younger warrior will need to be prepared to be in facile ground.
- Open Ground: ”Ground on which each side has liberty of movement is Open Ground.”
As the battle wears on, the dispersive ground is expected to become a facile ground and the metamorphosis would logically conclude at open ground. The warriors then would be even and the contest will be of highest quality.
Both the warriors, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are extraordinary athletes and have displayed the application of General Tzu’s techniques in the past. As we wait with bated breath for the first serve on SW19’s pristine grass, the battle pitch is reaching a crescendo. May the best warrior win!
Prediction: Roger Federer in 4 sets.