One of ‘s most successful tennis players says the key to his achievements is not being obsessed with winning – advice that could resonate with modern players like Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic who have admitted they don’t love the game and get bored with it.
Pat Rafter’s trophy cabinet is heaving with 11 career singles titles, two US Opens and a Davis Cup, 10 doubles titles including the n Open and more than $12 million in total career prize money.
His career was cruelled by a recurring shoulder injury and he retired at just 28 – but Rafter said his attitude throughout his career was to take the rough with the smooth and maintain a balance with his life outside sport.
“I think it is important to have balance though and I was someone who looked at the bigger picture of ‘what happens when I finish my career? What happens with my life?’ I never wanted to be someone who was so caught up in the tiny little world of the tennis reality that it was going to affect everything else that was going to happen around the world,” Rafter said.
“So I know what you’re saying but I was never someone who was totally focussed and that was all I was going to do. But it still was my first priority. So I felt like I struck a bit of a balance.”
Rafter spoke to The Thread, a Youtube series created by former AFL player Hugh Minson and journalist Jack Morphett to find the common life lessons between ten top-tier ns, ranging from businessmen like Gerry Harvey, Alan Bond and Simon McKeon to cultural and sporting icons like Germaine Greer, Jessica Watson and Gai Waterhouse.
While controversy is never far away from Kyrgios and Tomic, Rafter was something of a golden boy for n tennis during and after his career, something he humbly put down to engaging positively with the media.
“I think I was at a time where there weren’t a lot of players around,” he said.
“I came on the scene, I won a couple of slams and then I was sort of revered a little bit more than if I had won that back in the 70s, you would have just gone there’s another good tennis player from .
“Maybe the personality of the media sort of made me into something bigger than what I actually was. That’s okay.
“Success for me was being the best tennis player I possibly could be. It wasn’t based on ranking, it wasn’t based on money, it was based on did I give myself the best opportunity to become the best tennis player I possibly could become.”
Rafter said his hunger to win was kindled in his childhood as the seventh of nine kids born in Mt Isa in Queensland, and the struggles his parents faced to support his dreams.
“I think one of the things that really motivated me was if I could afford my own house, wouldn’t that be just great? And that was all I really wanted,” he said.
“I grew up with mortgages and things all around you.
“So you sit there and you think, well I am going to try and break free of all that. I saw life as having a family living in the house and that was all cool and if I own my own house then that was successful.
“Now if I had everything given to me and I came from a very wealthy family, I may not have had that drive to play tennis. But what I did have was support from every single one of them and I had time from my parents amongst all the other kids in the family, and an opportunity.
“Sometimes you come back and you’re brothers will slag you off for being a bit of a prick but that was all part of it as well. Get a bit of a big head, they’ll knock you down. But it wasn’t a negative thing, it was just the n way.”
Beyond his inner motivations, Rafter told The Thread he has never stopped loving tennis, and that his approach to the game was to learn at every opportunity.
“I just loved the game. How it was every different shot was a different shot and you had to learn different wind, different ball conditions, different court surfaces, different speeds. Everything was changing the whole time. It never got stale.
“So for me, I was motivated enough to try and master it and see how good I could get at it.”
For The Thread, the interview with Pat Rafter made the tenth and final episode of the web series, and Mr Minson said they accomplished what they set out to do – find the common thread.
“Jack and I originally set off on our mission to meet these 10 Aussie icons from different fields because we had two unanswered questions. The first was whether there was a common thread that ran through each of their diverse stories. And we really feel we answered this. Yes. There is a common thread,” he said.
“All these people dreamt big, and where so many of us are held back for whatever reason, these people just dived in and went for it. They were independent thinkers who backed themselves, didn’t let the naysayers get in their way, and achieved incredible things, inspiring people the world over.
“The second question we wanted answered was whether anyone could do what they’ve done. And we reckon the answer to this is also yes. All these Aussies were just ordinary people, but they’d made the decision to go and do extraordinary things.”