A few months ago, I explained some of the reasons as to why I failed as a professional tennis player. This time, I want to discuss how one of my college teammates and roommates made it as a professional tennis player. His name is Peter Luczak and he reached number 64 on the ATP world rankings, beating several highly ranked players and reaching the 3rd round of the Australian Open twice. Many of you may not have heard of Peter, but to give you some context, if he was one of the world’s top 100 soccer players, he would be playing for Barcelona or Juventus. If he was the 64th richest person in the world, he would have a net worth of over $15 billion. He was at the pinnacle of one of the top 5 sports in the world!
Peter and I arrived in the USA on the same day, Peter from Australia and me from Ireland. We hit it off immediately due to our ridiculous long hair! The next day, we played a set and I won 6 – 4. That was the first and last set I ever won from Peter. Peter basically improved every day from that point on and this is how he went about it:
1. Consistent approach and engaged process to training: Peter was not out on the court doing an ungodly amount of hitting which is contrary to what you will hear and be told by coaches. However, what he did have was an aptitude to maintain a high level of focus every time he stepped on the court. It was obvious that he enjoyed being on the court but also managed to concentrate for a long sustained period. He did not waste energy losing his temper or allowing himself to be distracted. He was never too high or too low, he just kept going about his business in a disciplined and engaged way every time he started a drill or played points. He did not necessarily work harder than everyone else from one day to the next, what he did was work hard EVERY SINGLE TIME he stepped on a tennis court. Where the rest of us could sustain a level of focus for a few practice sessions or portions of practice sessions each week necessary to develop, Peter maintained concentration for what appeared to be every minute of every practice. He also took days off like the rest of us, but clearly understood when he had to do more and when he needed less. I don’t know how he learned this ability but looking back at it now, it was extremely impressive the way he managed his time, his body and his mind.
2. Written Goals: I never told Peter this, but I remember going into his room once to look for a pen to do an assignment, and I came across his goals in the top shelf of his dresser. Sorry for snooping Peter, but they were right there and I could not resist!! On that list of goals, he had low level goals like do 100 sit-ups and 50 push-ups every night before bed. He also had on there very high level goals like “become a top 100 tennis player”. He never lost sight of what his goals were, he kept them close and followed through on everything he had written down on that small card. Peter was also willing to sacrifice whatever he needed to do to ensure he stayed consistent with his goals. He did not do any crazy partying, understood that having a girlfriend would distract him from what he wanted to accomplish, and had the confidence in himself to not get swept up in any peer pressure or situations that could take him away from the goals he had written down for himself.
3. Maintained a firm belief in his abilities and destiny: Peter was born in Europe to Polish parents. He was eligible to play Davis Cup for Poland when he was in college and I would tell him, “Peter, you have to go play for Poland, you are NEVER EVER going to get on the Australian Davis Cup Team. If I can hang with you in practice, then the Aussies are going to chop you up!” Recognize here that part of why I would say this was because I had such little belief in my own abilities; if I could practice with this guy then he could not be that good. Instead, I should have seen that I can hang with this guy and I am better than I think, if I keep working hard and use him as my inspiration, maybe I can have the type success he is having. Instead of striving for his level, I was trying to bring him down to my level. Not intentionally of course, but subconsciously, this was what was happening. Many people will say things to you due to their own insecurities and not recognize the belief you have in yourself. Sure enough, Peter did not listen to me. He believed he would play for Australia one day, and he did it. He is an extremely proud Aussie and nothing was going to get in his way of representing the country he loves.
4. Always looking for ways to be better: Both Peter and I share a love for learning and Peter read a wide variety of books and texts throughout college. I believe he was reading them and figuring out how he might apply these teachings to his tennis. Like I mentioned before, Peter got better every day on and off the court. I remember going to watch him play at the Australian Open in 2003 and was shocked at how much better his serve had become over just a nine-month period since I had last seen him play. Here he was at almost 24 years old and he was still getting better. His serve had become faster and more consistent. His second serve was getting up even higher on his opponent. Here was a player that was already really good (undefeated at # 1 singles his final year of college) and he was still finding ways to get better.
5. Stuck to his Routines: Peter had set routines in place before his serve, return and on the changeovers before he even came to college. Peter was a decent junior player but nothing special. We used to imitate his routines and give him a hard time but he knew they were helping him play his best tennis. His routines were unique to him, he wasn’t trying to copy anyone else, he just understood what he needed to do to refocus his mind and maintain the appropriate level of intensity.
6. Fearless: Peter would almost always serve-volley when he was down break point even though this was not a style of play he was particularly comfortable with. He trusted in his kick serve and the element of surprise on these big points and it felt like his conversion rate was 100%! He was completely fearless when it mattered the most. I would watch this in awe and as a teammate, you always wanted Peter to be the last person on to clinch the match as you knew no one was as fearless as he was. What a stud!
7. Love: What I think separated Peter from his teammates and college rivals was his love for the game of tennis. He genuinely enjoyed being in any scenario on the tennis court. From the warm-up to clinching big matches, you could see he had this incredible combination of love and focus. He had not lost the childlike pleasure for the game we all have when we first start showing signs of promise. I don’t believe that can be taught, yet, we keep trying to force young players to love it more! You can’t make people love something more! The game of tennis captured Peter’s imagination and intellect in way that eluded the rest of us. Those that know Peter would not confuse him for being the most talented player, but they know how much he loved the process and the game itself.
Peter is an absolute gem of a person, the ultimate gentleman and competitor. He achieved this success by staying focused on himself, never complaining and treating people and competitors with respect. He did not get caught up in any minutiae or negativity. The game of tennis is lucky to have someone like Peter still involved with it, and those that he coaches or mentors might be the luckiest tennis players on the planet. When I think about the type of person I want my children to become, I often think of Peter.
There are any number of pathways you can take to reach the type of success Peter had, but I think you will find you cannot deviate too much from the elements I have described above. If you want to reach your potential I would starting copying this road map to success.