After a knee injury led to an early exit at Wimbledon in 2012, Rafael Nadal took seven months off, skipping the Olympics, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. When he came back, all he did was tear through the field at the French Open, topping Novak Djokovic in an epic semifinal match and easily disposed of David Ferrer in the final.
Nadal's early exit at Wimbledon notwithstanding, it appears his decision to rest his knee was a good one.
Now one of Nadal's rivals, Andy Murray, is hoping the same "play it safe" strategy will help him finally take home the trophy at Wimbledon after deciding to sit out the French Open. And it appears Murray may have science on his side.
A new study carried out by researchers at the universities of Birmingham and Southampton found that athletes who can recognize their goals are unachievable and alter their focus are more successful than their peers.
The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, examined 180 athletes on a range of tests. Some of the tasks were designed to be unattainable, and the researchers studied how the athletes dealt with failure.
Those who had trouble letting go of a goal struggled longer and faced deeper disappointment, while those who could move on found more success overall.
"We found autonomous motives such as enjoyment or personal importance were a double-edged sword," Constantine Sedikides, a professor at the University of Southampton, said. "Athletes with such motives put in more effort and persisted for longer which helped them reach higher levels of performance with increasingly difficult but attainable goals. Yet when the goal became unachievable, they had great difficulty realising this, leading to brooding as they struggled to disengage from the goal."
Murray is reinforcing this theory at Wimbledon, where he hasn't dropped a set and has qualified for the quarter finals.