Andy Roddick’s final pro tennis match proved as engaging as his career. Through each breathtaking set, we asked ourselves if he might actually beat Juan Martin del Potro, advancing to the quarterfinals of the 2012 U.S. Open. When he didn’t, we heard his trademark candor, grace, and wit.
Roddick, unlike so many others in the spotlight, reminded us that he’s mortal. He worked his ass off. He dissed his skill. He didn't mind when cameramen showed Brooklyn Decker, his wife, in the stands, rather than the court where he sweated every point. "I didn't take any of it for granted," he said to the crowd in his farewell.
With no more competitive tennis to play or wisecracks to fire, no more emotions on his sleeve or crowds to please, Roddick's style serves up leadership lessons for all of us, in any field, as we aim to up our game.
At the end of a match in Delray Beach when Roddick was 17, a woman asked him to sign her chest. He responded, "I wasn’t brought up that way. How were you?" Years later he admitted, "I'd never even seen a boob before. I was overwhelmed."
While you may not seek out employees as blunt as Andy Roddick (or John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, or Brad Gilbert before him), his frank communication style is worth emulating. Not just in some vague "be transparent" way. Consider how your workplace would change if your former stars narrated your business point by point? They could highlight what your "talent" has been doing, how they might improve, and their chances of winning in years ahead.
Clarity builds trust. The attention candor garners builds brands. Of the $8.8 million Roddick earned last year, eight million came from endorsements. His style sells.
Love Roddick or hate him, you have an opinion of him. The Social Sentiment Index, which measures buzz around players, looked at the 150,592 mentions Roddick racked up on Twitter across the U.S. Open, 91,475 mentions on his last day of play alone. The analytics technology sifted real-time through raw text, distinguishing irony and interpreting emoticons, to assess which tweets truly expressed how people feel about his brand.
78% of the comments about Roddick were positive well wishes and cheers. The remainders were jeers and jokes. All ultimately added to sales of Lacoste hats and clothes, Babolat rackets and shoes, maybe even Lexus vehicles.
"There are no guarantees for me now," Roddick said after he advanced through the third round, "so I was trying to notice [everything]."
And notice he does. For the first time in his career, Roddick’s racquet was strung with 10 pounds less tension than he usually plays with. He united experience and technology to produce power and the right feel.
Have you ever paid close enough attention to what might lessen your tension by 10 pounds? New tools on USOpen.org (and the systems behind them) can offer those sorts of insights.
SlamTracker, developed by IBM, provides players, coaches, and the rest of us in-depth keys to every match. With data from grand slams over the last seven years, the system shows the top three things a player needs to do to perform well in a specific set.
Players don’t stop to look at their iPhones or iPads during a game, any more than you or I leave a negotiation to check on our momentum.
Imagine, though, if you could quickly see your industry's equivalent to how your opponent played her last match? How must rest does he need? How did she fare against similar challenges last month? What changes in his strategy when it rains?
Organizations that effectively apply predictive analytics are 2.2 times more likely to outperform their peers.
Boston-area based pizza chain Papa Gino's saw a 50% increase in order sales from more accurately analyzing its online customer loyalty campaign. South Africa's leading short-term insurance company, Santam, saved $2.4 million on fraudulent claims in the first four months of using advanced analytics tools.
In tennis, statistical algorithms can supplement gut instincts with insights from 39 million data points. Predictive analytics can inform many of our decisions before the final score tells the story.
Larry Stefanki, Roddick’s coach, refocused his emphasis on ranking toward a drive for results. As to why he didn’t travel much anymore Roddick said, "I play [tournaments] less and get more out of them."
The same applies to Roddick's fitness, often credited with keeping him in the top 20 for so long. Instead of bulking up, he’s been paring down.
The year before Stefanki joined Roddick, he was featured on the cover of Men's Fitness magazine. After seeing the airbrushed photo for the first time, Roddick joked, "I saw the cover, and it was pretty funny. Little did I know I have 22-inch guns. Maybe Rafael Nadal wants his arms back."
Instead of pushing harder, he’s increased flexibility, agility, and stamina. As with business, Chris Evert talks about how the most talented players can lose to those in better shape. That includes physical and mental fitness.
"The secret to fitness is to never return to old habits and to instead follow an ethic of continuous improvement," Deniz Caglar, Jaya Pandrangi, and John Plansky of Booz & Co. wrote in "Is Your Company Fit for Growth?".
When asked which professional players he’d liked to have played against at their fittest, Roddick said Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King. Amazing players, their strength and courage changed the game.
That’s how Roddick aims to focus his strength next, too. In 2000, the year he turned pro, Roddick launched The Andy Roddick Foundation dedicated to (in an all-too Colbert-sounding mission) "Serving Children Today for Tomorrow."
Historically partnering with other charities, this year the strategy changed. He’s building a youth tennis and learning center in Austin. The focus is mentoring young people in discipline and character. Seems like a perfect match.
When asked about Roddick's mentoring, up-and-coming player Ryan Harrison said, "The most important thing [Roddick taught] on the tennis front was the consistency of every day—every day, working, being out there, putting in time and effort. It's 100 percent. If you're going to do it halfway, there's no point in doing it at all. That's what he's done throughout his career and that's what he's all about."
We'll miss Roddick's dedication and his lack of pretense. Let's learn from them as we strive for more wins.
Marcia Conner consults with the world’s largest organizations on getting better at getting better. She recently published The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media and is writing her next book on ingenuity. She's married to a second-career USPTA tennis pro. Learn more about her at MarciaConner.com and at twitter.com/marciamarcia.