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Tennis

Peak Focus Is Never Knowing The Score

Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Every athlete is seeking a flow state. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who first named the concept, has described it as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” In a flow state, every distraction recedes into the background: regrets about the past, anxieties about the future, the basic scoring system of tennis.

Stefanos Tsitsipas was in such deep flow today that he didn’t even realize he’d won the second set of his fourth-round match against No. 20 seed Taylor Fritz. While the crowd roared and a pissed-off Fritz sunk into his chair for the changeover, the No. 4 seed paced around in the back of the court and grabbed some new balls to serve.

Even this marks a relative decline in Tsitsipas’s concentration. In the previous round, he failed to realize that he’d won the match. After wrapping up the fourth set, he started towards his towel, as a defeated Benoit Paire stood at the net and wondered what was up.

I’ve never seen a player do what Tsitsipas has now done twice. After today’s match, the 23-year-old asked what the hell was going on, and he described the present state of his mind palace.

“It’s just concentrating on building geometrical patterns and the structure of the game, I’m focused on every single ball I hit,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m trying to dictate play, see into the future if I do certain things, what’s the next move? When I play chess I also get lost into the game and it’s a beautiful thing to be able to zone in so much and be in the present moment.”

Tsitsipas is currently so engaged that he’s seeing the fundamental structure of reality and forgetting how his sport is scored. Do not bet against a man in this kind of flow.