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From Where We Sit

Learning from Federer’s new playbook

Maria Isabel E. Comedia Maria Isabel E. Comedia

We are just three weeks away from the US Open, the fourth and last Grand Slam tennis tournament for 2017.
And as the anticipation builds up, one question looms among sports fans: Will Roger Federer be able to capture his 20th Grand Slam title? This question is unthinkable a year ago since he decided to skip, for the first time in his career, the 2016 US Open Tournament. In fact, the relevant question at that time was: Will he still be able to return to the professional tennis circuit considering that he had not won any Grand Slam title since 2013 and had even exited early in the various tournaments he joined?

This year, however, as to whether he would capture his 20th, my answer is a resounding “yes!” A Federer win in this year’s US Open will not even come as a surprise. He already shocked the tennis world when he came back strong this year by winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon. His 2017 win-loss record is a mind-blowing 31-2, which means he has won 94 percent of his matches so far, compared with his lifetime career average of only 82 percent. This is such a great accomplishment for Federer because the only title he won in 2016 was GQ’s Most Stylish Man (a very impressive feat, nevertheless, considering he won over Kanye West and Ryan Gosling).

As a long time Federer fan, I have to agree with tennis pundits when they say that the 2017 Federer edition has been playing better than ever. During his six-month hiatus in 2016, he seemed to have retooled himself, gained a new perspective on his game and changed his playbook to get back to winning all the important matches and extending his relevance in the tennis world. 

After his historic win at Wimbledon a few weeks ago, I have been thinking of the things we can learn from Federer as working individuals trying to achieve our own career goals and maintaining our own relevance in the competitive workplace. Here are some of the things we can learn from Federer’s playbook:

Turn your weakness into strength. In our career, there are always areas for improvement or weaknesses that weigh us down as we pursue our goals. These areas could be our way of communicating effectively, developing new business, expanding our network or managing complex assignments. In Federer’s case, it was his one-handed backhand, which many pundits considered his weak spot, particularly when facing Rafael Nadal’s intense and punishing game. Nadal became his long-time nemesis, as he denied Federer the titles in four French Opens. It took several years for Federer to finally listen to his coach and do something about his backhand that would eventually unlock the Nadal puzzle. In 2017, Federer transformed his backhand drive to enable him to beat Nadal in all their three matches, improving his head-to-head record against the Spaniard to 14-23. My key takeaway from this is to have the humility to acknowledge those weaknesses that prevent us from achieving our goals. We have to make a decision to do something about it and convert it into our strength. Furthermore, we have to accept assistance and encouragement from our respective career coaches to overcome those weaknesses.

Wisely choose your battles. Day in, day out, we encounter several work-related issues. These may include an unreliable IT network, late submission of reports, inadequate employee benefits or outdated policies. Due to the finite amount of time and energy, we cannot fight all these battles; otherwise, these will be draining and counterproductive. A Harvard Business Review article, entitled “How to Pick your Battles at Work,” suggests that one of the principles to follow in choosing your battle is to understand your authority. Before tackling a specific battle, we need to assess whether we have the reputation and the authority to succeed. It appears that Federer applied the same principle when he decided to miss all the clay tournaments this year. At his age, he knows how physically grueling a clay court will be on his 36-year-old body. Federer knows that he has a slim chance of winning on this surface, a turf wherein Nadal has dominated him all throughout their careers. By deliberately skipping the clay court tournaments, Federer entered the grass court tournaments fresh and well rested, as evidenced by his winning the Halle Open and Wimbledon without dropping a single set.

Continuously seek ‘perfection.’ Perfection seems to be Federer’s middle name as one of the tennis greats who is not only enjoying an extended athletic peak in tennis but who continues to win Grand Slam titles at an otherwise waning stage. He has definitely rewritten the tennis history books many times over. His hunger to achieve more despite all his accomplishments seems to be unrelenting. He continues to improve his game to adjust to the changing times, including new racquets and coaches. Similar to Federer, I believe that regardless of where we are in our careers, we should continue to learn and endeavor to hone our knowledge and expertise in order to stay relevant and productive in our workplaces.

Fundamentally though, it is Federer’s passion and love for tennis that are sustaining his long and illustrious career. Indeed, our career would only be more meaningful and rewarding if we truly have the passion and love for what we do.

Mabel Comedia is a partner at Audit & Assurance and Head of the Technical Standards and Quality Control of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 partners and more than 850 staff members. For your comments, please email or For more information about P&A Grant Thornton, visit our website


As published in The Manila Times dated 09 August 2017.