As luck would have it ….

Are there special forces at work on a tennis court?

Does luck have anything to do with who wins or loses?

You say you don’t believe in such things. Fair enough. Gilles Muller out-played Rafael Nadal and deserved to win 15-13 in the fifth set.

Consider this. Rafael Nadal’s dramatic loss to Muller, and his epic 2008 championship win over Roger Federer (the longest Wimbledon final ever), were both 4 hours and 48 minutes long.

If Rafa was lucky in 2008, then you could say he was destined to be unlucky in 2017.


At some points in the two-hour fifth set, fate seemed to be on the side of Rafa.  A sudden gust of wind blew his lob back in. Muller completely whiffed on Rafa’s second serves on key points, something rarely seen at the pro level. Did Rafa somehow doctor his swing to impart a new twist on the ball? Or did the ball hit a divot in the grass and bounce a unique way? Or did both happen?

If you believe in luck or fate, then Muller’s win makes sense.  He was luckier. He often shanked, mishit or framed balls that somehow landed in the court, even in the corner, or just over the net.

“I kept believing, and somehow in the end, I made it,” said Muller after the match.

A victorious player naturally believes he earned the victory. A loser might naturally think the other guy got lucky.

Who is right?

You could cite data, statistics, science and expert analysis to explain why Muller upset Nadal. Or you could simply conclude that Muller got lucky. Luck gave him opportunities on key points, and he took them.

Maybe that’s what it takes to win in sports, and in life.

Somebody gets lucky; somebody else doesn’t.

Roger Federer often says he got “lucky” to win. This week he said he was “super lucky” to beat Marin Cilic in the Wimbledon quarters last year.

If you believe in luck or fate, it would take the pressure off you to perform. You could stay calm and cool and positive, and good things would happen. That was Muller’s mentality today versus Nadal. He looked like the Buddha serving bombs down the T and low and wide to Rafa’s forehand.

Nadal, on the other hand, was trying to defeat fate. During his post-match presser, he said he played with total passion and left everything he had on the court. He had 23 aces — a staggering number for him, more than in many tournaments — and flurries of service winners to keep him alive. He had 77 winners versus 17 errors, according to generous Wimbledon score-keepers. He hit spectacular spinning and stabbing backhand overheads. He executed sublime drop-shots and scintillating backhand passing shots. Yet that still wasn’t enough, because he had bad luck.

Rafa converted only 2 out of 16 break points. In many cases, Muller hit the lines, even if he wasn’t aiming there. At one point Rafa hit a smash; Muller lunged to get his racquet on the ball. He was aiming anywhere, hoping just to get the ball over Rafa’s head. His lob did go over Rafa’s head, and landed on Rafa’s baseline. Muller’s luck didn’t stop there. Of his 30 aces and 95 winners, I’d bet that most of them were on the line. Rafa couldn’t believe many of those shots landed in. Rafa indeed lost many challenges and ran out of them late in the match.

This match, more than any other, made me rethink my approach to luck and fate.

You can train hard, eliminate weaknesses and cover all the angles but you never know what’s going to happen. The light could change and, for a split second, you can’t see the ball. Or a bug gets in your eye or mouth. During the epic Nadal-Muller fifth set, a bird kept swooping near the court, threatening to throw off somebody’s concentration. With Rafa ready to serve, a ray of sunlight reflected off a glass panel high up in the stadium. Fortunately Rafa spotted this in time, and some fans and staff covered it up.

How many matches turn when a fan hollers during a point, or a plane, train, champagne cork or something else disturbs someone’s concentration?

Strategy, skill, determination, concentration are all important aspects of any match. So is luck. Think about that next time you try to pick a winner or prepare for your own match.

(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved)