Andrew Lues was the #2 ranked 18-and-under player in Georgia when I was 16. I was probably ranked in the 30’s at that point. Andrew was everything I wanted to be as a player. He was a chip-and-charging, serve-and-volleying machine. The very second he had the chance to attack the net, he did it. He was the Stefan Edberg of my time, and I thought he was amazing.
And then I matched up against him at one of the big state tournaments at South Fulton Tennis Center. He was the #1 seed, and I was unseeded. On any normal day, Andrew would have beaten me 6-1, 6-1, in 40 minutes. But not this day.
I could tell he was in some kind of funk from the start of the match. He was a little sloppier than normal, missing a few shots inches wide here, hitting the top of the net there. And for whatever reason, I was on the top of my game.
As I stayed neck and neck with him in the first set, I could tell that the idea of him being locked in a competitive match with me was starting to make him play worse. I’m guessing he didn’t even know my name, so to be struggling against a scrub like this must have been irking him. The first set ended in a tie-breaker, with him edging me out 8-6.
I didn’t have many strengths in my game, but one thing I never did was quit. Not an inch, not one point. So I dug in even further and told myself this was my chance to have the biggest win of my life. I fought him tooth and nail in that second set and I ended up winning it, in another tie breaker. The score was 6-7, 7-6. Then we left the courts for the ten minute break that juniors get when they split sets.
After I left the court, and I saw Andrew head to the locker room, I approached my friends. They had been gathered around watching my match intently, cheering loudly with every point I won. Smacking me on the back, telling me they can’t believe I’ve split sets with Andrew Lues, my friends were possibly as excited I was.
About half-way through the ten minute break, I went to the locker room. The light was on one of those motion-sensors and kicked on when I walked in. And then I saw Andrew. He was sitting on the floor back in the far corner, shirt off, and a towel slung over his lowered head. He wasn’t talking to his friends or drinking water. He wasn’t doing anything at all. Just sitting there, in the dark silence.
I went back out, hung out with my friends for a few more minutes, trying to take into account all the great advice they were giving me on how to win that 3rd set. I sat on the court and looked at my watch, and right at ten minutes, I saw Andrew come out of the locker room.
He walked on to the court, picked up the balls, and walked to the baseline ready to serve. He then proceeded to beat me 6-0 in that 3rd set in about 14 minutes. I’m not joking, I maybe won six points in those six games. He never sat on the bench as we changed sides. He never pumped his fist after winning a point. He didn’t look to the stands. He just focused in on beating my undeserving a$$.
He then spent the rest of the week annihilating everyone in the tournament, winning the Finals easily. I was the only person that took a set off of him that week, so I guess that counts for something. At least that’s what I told myself.
That match happened to me almost 25 years ago. And I still vividly remember it to this day. I can picture him in that locker room, getting his mind in the right place to get through the match. His ability to focus on the work that needed to be done, and then go out and execute, left a big impression on me.
In life, and especially at work, we need to focus on the important things and make sure we execute them spectacularly. That’s the only way to have real success.