Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The problem with making excuses

I would have expected Söderling to come into this match with a plan for conquering a nemesis who is practiced at beating him. What I would not have expected is a string of lame-assed excuses after he lost. It’s not as if Kohlschreiber is some kind of novice who happened to be having an inspired day. Kohlschreiber is an experienced tennis player who has long had Soderling’s number. This loss is not new. It has happened three times before. Their head-to-head is now 4-1 favoring Kohlschreiber.

Granted Söderling won the last time they met but that was no easy win. That match in Rotterdam went to 3 difficult sets, ending with a third set tiebreak that Söderling won 9-7. That is not a walk in the park. So at Indian Wells, the minute I saw Kohlschreiber use the one-two punch and hit a confident backhand to break Söderling right back in the opening set, I knew that Söderling was in trouble. I was therefore not surprised that he lost. What surprised and disappointed me was the string of excuses he unleashed upon losing.

First he said it was his ankle, which he injured during Davis Cup. Then he had a hard time being specific about the nature of the injury because he had only played one match at Davis Cup and at no point was there a misstep or a fall. And no, he did not get it x-rayed or examined. Then it was that he got sick and spent five days in bed with a fever so he couldn’t really prepare. At no point did he simply acknowledge that he had been beaten period. At no point did he acknowledge his opponent’s better performance. In fact, he had to be forced by the end of the interview to even acknowledge Kohlschreiber at all:

Q. Kohlschreiber had a 3-1 record against you before this match, and the one win was a tough one in Rotterdam. Does his game match up well against yours?
ROBIN SODERLING: Yeah, he's a great player. Apart from these two last matches, we haven't played for a very long time. So the previous match, it was a long time ago. But again, you know, he's a great player. When he's playing well, he's very dangerous.

In other words, those old wins that Kohlschreiber has over him don’t really count. What counts is the last match in Rotterdam that Söderling won. And today’s match didn’t count because his ankle was hurting and he was fresh off a fever, and the tennis season is too long, and he could not give 100% and really he should not even have bothered to show up. Steups.

The problem with excuses – especially such drawn out and repeated ones – is that they make you look like a deceitful fool. In fact, in a study done in 2008 and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the researchers found that outsiders have a negative view of people who are constantly full of excuses following crappy performances.

One particular finding from this study may be especially relevant to Söderling. If in fact he was as ill-prepared for this tournament as he claims, his decision to enter anyway is completely self-sabotaging. If indeed he had suffered an injured ankle, a five-day fever, and inadequate rest after Davis Cup, the sensible thing to do would have been to call in sick for Indian Wells. At worst, he would have been charged a fine. Surely he can afford this?

However, the decision to enter the tournament anyway gives him a built-in excuse for failure. And a built-in excuse allows him to protect his self-image in the event of failure. A loss under conditions of injury and illness means that it was not his fault, that Kohlschreiber really doesn’t have his number after all, that it was just a fluke. He was off his game because he wasn’t feeling well. Excuses, excuses. And all this time I was thinking that gentleman Magnus might have taught him some manners.


TennisAce said...

Frankly, I am not surprised by this. It is the way of most of the ATP these days. According to some folks Nadal has never lost a match while healthy. Whenever he loses it is because he is sick or injured.

Federer received a whole lot of backlash last year when he attributed his loss at Wimbledon to an injury.

Verdasco said recently that he was playing with a broken foot and after all they were not playing real tennis to explain his loss against Milos Raonic, not once, but twice in back to back events.

Like poop, it all rolls downhill after awhile so we are just seeing the results of that.

Brad Green - Racquet Barn said...

Kohlschreiber is a good player. Soderling is too but yes he cannot handle losing to someone like Kohlschreiber who has the wood over him.

Personally I'm gracious in defeat. If they beat me then that is it I tried my best no matter what. I'm not going to tarnish their win with "oh I have a cranked shoulder".

How would you have reacted?


tennischick said...

Thanks for your comments.

I think that there is a difference between an excuse and an explanation. There's nothing wrong in explaining why you lost as long as your explanation includes a clear acknowledgment that the other guy played better that day. I think that players like Federer and Nadal get this.

I generally have no problem losing probably because I'm really practiced at it. :-) But I do get incensed when the other person cheats, such as calling a ball out before it even hits the ground. That truly irks me.

TennisAce said...

I retired once in a match trailing 7-0 at league tennis. I was getting my behind handed to me and I retired, shook my opponent's hand and explained at the net that I was suffering from a case of tennis elbow (I did have my elbow strapped) and I apologised profusely for first of all putting on such a poor display, and second for even scheduling the match.

My opponent took it all in stride and was quite nice at the net as she could tell that I could not even put a serve in the court. It was still a bummer.

tennischick said...

And I would say that your clearly wrapped elbow was an explanation, not an excuse.

Tonight I caught a clip of a Soderling interview on the Tennis Channel. It was clearly done prior to Indian Wells, and he is caught saying that Davis Cup was his preparation for this tourney and that he feels totally ready. There is NO mention of his ankle or the fever. Busted! lol