Rafael Nadal was beautiful in his interview after his semi-final win at the U.S. Open. He gave credit to his opponent, said he was happy with his game and improvement, and convincingly downplayed any talk about his overtaking Federer’s Slam record and/or being the best player of all time. He was modest, even humble, (as he always is) and it was very attractive.
Nadal provides an excellent example of socially attractive behavior that the rest of us would be well-advised to keep in mind and emulate. We all have egos and building them up makes us feel good. It’s a natural urge. But we need to fight it because other people find it very unappetizing. We want to build ourselves in their eyes, but end up doing just the opposite. Thus an unwritten rule of tennis involves talking about your wins. In a few words: don’t.
Telling people about who you have beaten or how good you are is, in the realm of tennis, similar to businesspeople telling their friends how much money they made in a business deal or bragging about the money they made in the stock market. Classy people don’t do it. Tempting as it may be, it is a display of insecurity, weakness, and ego that is repellent to anyone but your mother, and you are well-advised to keep a lid on it. We all enjoy having our egos stroked, but we all find it distasteful to watch others stroking their own. Nadal (and Federer) do most of their talking with their rackets and downplay their successes if they talk about them at all.
You can tell a lot about a person from this because it takes a certain effort of will for everyone, including Nadal and Federer, to control the impulse to brag. Right after playing a great match in the Open semi-final and beating the stuffing out of his opponent, Nadal, like anyone else, would have loved to jump up on the table, pound his chest, tell everybody that he’s playing great and that he feels like he could beat anybody who ever lived. But of course he resisted. Most (but not all, unfortunately for the few that don’t) great players deliberately control these urges. It is another small example of why the great champions are great – their intelligent minds overpower counterproductive emotional urges. The few that yield to the urge to brag do so, in my opinion, because they have been brought up badly and never taught the “rules.” Nadal has obviously been brought up well, and Uncle Tony is on hand to remind him in case he forgets.
There is one other reason for being humble about your tennis prowess. It is likely to make you a better player. Why? You have less to prove, and it reduces your stress. (In general, I have found that one’s general level of stress will be reduced by becoming less egotistical and less self-centered. Selfishness is inherently stressful, because one can never satisfy all of one’s selfish needs. But thinking of others and becoming a better person is always achievable and satisfying.)