Sporting upsets: How underdogs can have their day

Story highlights

Lukas Rosol beat No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal in five sets at Wimbledon

The Czech world No. 100 had only previously won 17 matches on the ATP Tour

Tennis coach Pete McCraw believes success is down to mentality and self-belief

Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova doubt Rosol can build on his win

CNN  — 

Lukas Rosol shocked the sporting world, and perhaps even himself, by defeating two-time champion Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, but the unknown Czech is not the first to have triumphed against seemingly impossible odds.

The history of sport is littered with tales of underdogs toppling heavily-fancied favorites. But how is it that Rosol, ranked 100th in the world and having won just 17 ATP Tour matches prior to Thursday, can rise to the occasion and defeat an 11-time grand slam winner such as Nadal?

Rosol sends Nadal crashing out of Wimbledon

“It’s always far easier to strive for a goal than achieve it,” tennis coach Pete McCraw explained to CNN when asked about how sport’s “Davids” can get the better of imposing “Goliaths.”

“It’s all mental, you either believe or you don’t,” he said. “Truly believe and, as a result, you give yourself a real chance of both playing well and achieving victory in the moment. In the end, so few believe and just want to not get embarrassed.”

McCraw, the current director of coaching for Tennis New Zealand, believes the main difference between title-winning stars like second seed Nadal and underachieving journeymen, such as the 26-year-old Rosol, is mentality and an innate belief in their own ability.

Who is Lukas Rosol?

“Champions really live in a different place than the rest - they dare to dream,” he said. “They have the courage to believe and the confidence to create. The result : they succeed.

“In tennis, when any highly-ranked player is taken to five sets, or three in the women’s game, the lower-ranked player drops their level. In the end, they hand victory to the higher-rated player.”

But Rosol did not drop his level. The Wimbledon singles debutant produced devastating strokes in the fifth set to pummel Nadal into submission and reach the third round. His only other appearance on the hallowed grass courts ended in a first-round doubles defeat last year.

The 26-year-old’s bullish approached impressed observers all over the world, so is aggression the key to overcoming an imposing opponent?

“You don’t make top 100 or even the top 10, let alone win a grand slam, by being aggressive all the time,” said McCraw, who has worked extensively with stars such as Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic.

“The scoreboard rewards conservative decision-making, the court rewards percentage cross-court tennis. No different to golf – getting up and down in two shots rather than hitting for the pin. The margins are just not there.

“He played to win, backed himself and held his line at the critical time. It’s what you train for all your career, so when the moment arrives there should be nothing to fear as you have been preparing for this for years.”

Despite his scintillating performance, two tennis greats have questioned whether Rosol can advance past his next match against German 27th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Eight-time grand slam champion Jimmy Connors tweeted: “In ‪tennis we call Rosol a stopper, he won’t win or even go deep in tournament but he will stop a top seed from advancing.”

Rosol’s compatriot Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 major singles titles, agreed: “Happy for Lukas Rosol, but really feeling bad for Rafa. Would be shocked if Rosol can get anywhere near that form again.”

But McCraw argues that speculation over Rosol’s chances in the rest of the tournament is irrelevant, and all that matters is celebrating his remarkable win.

“Who cares, sport is about on the day, on your merit, and Rosol took his chance, he had a go and backed himself on the day and was rewarded.

“It’s got nothing to do with how far he goes after that, only that on this day he lived his dreams, played to or above his potential and the moment rewarded him with a victory.

“Whether he believes in himself again or not, wins another round or not is irrelevant – that’s sports as it is life.”