Wimbledon 2013: The secret of Andy Murray's success? Knowing when to admit defeat

The British tennis star's ability to know when to give up could be a key attribute in his bid for Wimbledon glory

Some put his recent success down to the impact of new coach Ivan Lendl –others to the drive and determination of his mother Judy. But the secret of Andy Murray's ascendancy is in part attributable to his rare ability to recognise when to give up, suggest scientists.

Follow game-by-game coverage of Andy Murray's first match of Wimbledon 2013 against Benjamin Becker

The 26-year-old US Open champion, who begins his Wimbledon campaign on Centre Court today, has benefited from his capacity to tell when it is time to "let go" and abandon the challenge he has set himself in order to move on to the next, the researchers claim.

The British Olympic champion dropped out of the French Open this month because of a back injury, scuppering his hope of playing in four Grand Slam finals in a row. But in doing so he has been able to recuperate and be fit for Wimbledon. This ability to recognise when a sporting goal has moved out of reach and switch focus to the next one is a key ingredient of the sporting champion, psychologists have concluded.

Researchers from the universities of Birmingham and Southampton found the highest achieving athletes were those motivated by enjoyment or for whom attaining a goal was personally important. Those who worked hard as a result of external pressure or a sense of guilt tended to do less well.

But the former group, though better motivated, were worse at recognising when a goal was beyond them, found it harder to stop striving to reach it and were more depressed by failure. The secret of all-round success was to be highly motivated, but also capable of abandoning unattainable goals quickly and moving on to the next.

In a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, researchers studied 180 athletes who were set a range of cycling tasks, some of which were deliberately designed to be unattainable, enabling them to examine how the athletes coped with failure.

The results showed those who were more highly motivated struggled for longer and suffered deeper disappointment when they failed. Those who gave up on the unattainable goals sooner and switched to another task did better overall. Professor Nikos Ntoumanis, from the University of Birmingham, said: "Our experiments showed the importance of a person realising early enough when it was best to let go and adopt another similar goal." The University of Southampton's Professor Constantine Sedikides said: "We found autonomous motives such as enjoyment or personal importance were a double-edged sword. 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."

Awareness of athletes' motives and not just of the goal they are seeking is necessary in order to help them most effectively, the experts say. The findings may be used in other areas, such as helping people to lose weight, where recognising swiftly that some goals are unachievable is key to staying motivated and making progress.

40-love: Wimbledon in numbers

1 54,250 balls will be used during the championships.

2 They are stored at exactly 20C to ensure uniform consistency.

3 Yellow balls were used for the first time in 1986.

4 Goran Ivanisevic holds the record for hitting the most aces in a championship: 212 in 2001.

5 The ladies' record is 57, shared by Alexandra Stevenson in 1999 and Serena Williams in 2008.

6 484,805 people attended the 13 days of the championships in 2012.

7 There are 38,500 spectators in the grounds at any one time.

8 The global TV audience was 378.8m people in 198 territories.

9 They viewed 15,388 hours of footage.

10 The longest final in Wimbledon history took place between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in 2008. It lasted 4hrs and 48mins.

11 About 200,000 glasses of Pimm's will be drunk.

12 If it didn't have a retractable roof, 7,500 umbrellas would be needed to cover centre court.

13 When the roof is deployed 143,000 litres of air per second are pumped into the bowl.

14 It would take 290 million tennis balls to fill centre court with the roof closed.

15 The fastest serve recorded was 148mph by Taylor Dent in 2010.

16 Venus Williams holds the record for the ladies – 129mph in 2008.

17 Championship playing grass is cut to 8mm high.

18 It is composed of 100 per cent rye grass, which is more resistant to wear and tear.

19 25,000 bottles of champagne will be drunk.

20 Maria Sharapova is the loudest grunter, with one recorded at 105 decibels in 2009.

21 Rufus, a Harris Hawk, deters pigeons from the club. He disappeared for three days in 2012.

22 The longest match was played over three days in 2010. John Isner beat Nicolas Mahut in 11hrs 5mins, winning the fifth set 70-68.

23 660 matches are played during the fortnight.

24 Championship towels are the top-selling merchandise item, with 25,000 sold last year.

25 10,000 umbrellas were also sold.

26 More than 2,000 rackets will be strung by the stringing team, using 40 miles of string.

27 Slazenger has supplied the official balls since 1902.

28 Robinson's has been the official still soft-drink since 1935.

29 This year the singles champions will each receive £1.6m of the £22.6m prize money.

30 Equal prize money for men and women was introduced in 2007.

31 250 ball boys and girls will be in attendance.

32 28,000kg of Grade I Kent strawberries will be consumed in the fortnight.

33 8,615 punnets, containing at least ten berries and costing £2.50, will be consumed every day.

34 They are served with 7,000 litres of fresh cream.

35 Since 1922, the tournament has been played without rain interruption seven times: 1931, 1976, 1977, 1993, 1995, 2009 and 2010.

36 The last British male singles champion was Fred Perry in 1936.

37 He beat Baron Gottfried von Cramm, who was awarded the Iron Cross in 1942 for bravery during the battle of Stalingrad.

38 The last British woman to win was Virginia Wade in 1977.

39 The last British male finalist was Andy Murray in 2012, the first British man in the final for 74 years.

40 The first player to be disqualified from Wimbledon was Tim Henman, who struck a ball girl in the head after hitting a ball in anger in 1995.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
News
i100
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Sport
Fabian Delph celebrates his goal
footballChristian Benteke and Fabian Delph turn semi-final after Liverpool goal
Life and Style
Model wears: top £29.50, leggings £25, jacket £29.50, bag £25, all marksandspencer.com
fashion
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace