Something I saw after hours in the office before heading home last night brought me right back to my youth.
A big tennis fan on the team had the Wimbledon tournament up on his computer screen. The expression on his face made it clear he was watching a spectacle that was a bit special.
Soon the rest of the office stragglers gathered round. The match was a visceral contest between Rafael Nadal and the Australian Nick Kyrgios.
Kyrgios is a young talent who has exploded onto the tennis scene. He is tipped for great things, but he is a wonderfully flawed character. Like a rebellious teenager he is still not fully in control of his temperament and his emotions. He vents at other players, line judges and, of course, umpires.
If he gets in a sulk he sometimes doesn’t return serve.
Yesterday was a fine display. He howled at the umpire like a banshee and made clear his disdain for his long-experienced, highly professional opponent.
At one point he rifled the ball directly at Nadal with enough venom to cause damage and prove it was more than just a tactic. It was a personal, physical challenge to the champion.
Nadal barely reacted to the assault but permitted himself the smallest of stares at his assailant before turning back to his side of the court.
It was as near to a boxing match as one gets to see on grass at genteel, socially conservative Wimbledon. The crowd responded in kind, forgetting itself and getting swept up in the drama of the confrontation.
It was only a second-round match, but it reminded me of the great Borg-McEnroe finals of 1980 and 1981. There Borg played the cool-headed incumbent and McEnroe the brash and wild upstart. McEnroe was a like volcano primed to erupt at any time – he was a spiky affront to the social mores of the stuffy establishment, like a punk rocker spitting in front of a classical orchestra.
Both matches are considered two of the greatest ever played. The whole world watched and everyone picked their favourite and rooted for them.
Tennis has an incumbency – a trio of unassailable champions in Federer, Nadal and Djokovic who have dominated the sport for over a decade.
Like the Borg reign of the late 1970s, everyone knows it soon has to come to an end. Even the perma-youthful Nadal has the beginnings of a bald patch showing on the back of his head.
But it is almost impossible to predict when this golden era will close.
All three are level-headed professionals who let their rackets do the talking. They analyse their opponents’ weaknesses and then exploit them ruthlessly, in real time. Their superiority can seem a little boring sometimes, with all the spectacle of management consultants playing a chess tournament.
In insurance terms Kyrgios is the exciting and disruptive InsurTech with the raw talent and arrogance of youth.
He’s a Lemonade who makes the mistake of underestimating and sometimes insulting his competition.
He ignores received wisdom and tries shots the incumbents have long-since discarded as low-percentage gambits. But when they come off he leaves the older men ridiculously flat-footed.
Lemonade plays with a wild and naïve freedom. It still doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.
The incumbents know
almost everything and man the barriers to entry, but need to fight against complacency.
Back in the tennis world Nadal steeled himself and locked down his serve to grind Kyrgios down for a four-set win.
Luckily for us insurance isn’t a zero-sum game with head-to-head confrontations for a winner-takes-all trophy.
Insurance is a multi-player spectacle occurring on a huge court with no net where the winners grind out marginal gains over decades. The ball rarely goes out of play.
Victories here are relative as a series of tiny wins are compounded over long periods of time. Victors emerge as top-quartile regulars. The middle quartiles do okay and only the absolute worst of bottom quartile ever get knocked out.
In insurance if he kept fit and his eye on the ball Björn Borg could still be winning grand slams in 2019.
The Lemonades of this world will need to learn how to keep their fizziness fresh for very long periods if they are to join him in the pantheon.