The key to American tennis player Amer Delic’s success is the power of negative thinking. To prepare for one of the biggest tennis matches of his career, Amer Delic visualized hitting forehands into the seats and volleys into the net. He pictured himself being blown off this island by Nikolay Davydenko, the No. 4 seed in the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida.
It was definitely not a framework for success ripped from the pages of Rhonda Byrne’s best-selling book, The Secret, which stresses better living through positive thinking. But it worked like a dream for the 24-year-old Delic, a former National Collegiate Athletic Association champion from Illinois by way of Bosnia and Jacksonville, Florida.
After lulling himself to sleep by imagining the worst that could befall him on the grand stage of Crandon Park’s Stadium Court, the 89th-ranked Delic went out the next day (26 March) and defeated Davydenko, 7-6 (5), 6-3, in the third round for his first victory against a top-10 player since turning professional in 2003.
Delic had five aces and 28 winners, but his stroke of genius was challenging what was first called a forehand winner, which would have given Davydenko the first set at 6-4. The replay revealed that the ball was barely out, and from that point, Delic said, he started playing more confidently.
“I knew I could play better,” he said. “So it was just a matter of cleaning those things up and seeing how far it takes me.”
Delic’s strong suit is not his serve, even though it has been timed at more than 220kmph. His strength is his perspective, which is not surprising. Few things keep a person more grounded than being uprooted from his homeland.
In 1996, when Delic was 13, his family, which includes his sister, Lejla, 27, and his parents, Muharem and Sadina, fled Bosnia. With help from a refugee organization, Lutheran Social Services, they landed in Jacksonville on 2 April—an anniversary they celebrate every year with a special dinner— with four suitcases, two tennis rackets and $1,000.
“We lived in an apartment with my cousins, all seven of us in a two-bedroom apartment,” said Delic, who is now an American citizen. “Was I thinking that I was going to be here today beating the No. 4 player in the world? No.”
After winning the 2003 NCAA singles title during his junior year, Delic left Illinois and turned professional. For the second time in his life, he felt like a stranger in a foreign land. ”Playing here, you’re trying to survive and make some money,” he said. ”Until now, I was playing mostly Challengers and trying to cover the expenses, hotel, rental cars, whatnot.”
If Monday was the high point of his career, then this time last year was the nadir. Delic rolled an ankle during a Challenger event the week before this tournament and was sidelined for six weeks.
When Delic resumed playing, his game was lame. As his world ranking neared 200, Delic considered switching to Plan B, which was to return to Illinois and finish the last year of his undergraduate degree in applied life studies.
His parents talked him into sticking with tennis, and after winning two Challenger events at the end of last year, he was glad he did.
Delic says he will go through the same pre-match routine of visualizing failure with other opponents, too. “My coach in college, Craig Tiley, he would tell us, ‘All right, for 15 minutes, just kind of go through the match and just visualize the worst-possible scenario and then just play through it,”’ Delic said. “Then the next day, if you were faced with it, you would have already been through it.” Delic has been through more than a lot of people could imagine. “I don’t want to make a big drama out of this,” he said. “But I appreciate some things, I think, a little bit more.”