First of all, let’s clarify the definition or, more realistically, the definitions and then apply them to tennis.
With the term talent we can identify an individual who expresses abilities/skills with efficiency and effectiveness, in a kind of natural way; or an individual who can perform significantly better than the average of his/her peers, in a given activity.
The two definitions above stated can respectively fit players like Gael Monfils and Dominik Thiem, or the usual duo Federer and Nadal.
Is it then possible to state that both the cases presented in the title can happen? The history of sport, not only tennis, shows us how talents express themselves in two different contexts: 1. Isolated cases 2. Phenomenons of groups located in the same area or context. In the first case, there are countless examples, for the second one it is more rare, among them we can remember Sweden in the 1970´s, also the Russian tennis club, Spartak Moscow between 2005 an 2006 produced more than 20 top players than in the whole of the United States, or the more recent Spanish Armada boosted by Nadal’s performances.
In other sports similar cases can also be found for example Brazil for football, South Korea for golf, Jamaica for track and field short distance competitions, New Zealand for rugby and many others all over the world can be considered hotbeds.
These cases above give the hope that talent is not only born, it can be grown! So the question first though has two possible answers.
But what are the factors most talented tennis players have in common?
Some are inherited, personally developed attitudes, matching with a specific activity as tennis, a reason, a sparkle which gave the motivation, the opportunity and pleasure to play this sport and finally an environment where people can take the qualities out of the player, through proper advice and “guide them on the right path"
In my experience as a Talent Scout and Coach I have developed a method, called Tennis Talents Formula which has helped me to spot, amongst thousand of young players (aged between 10 and 15), five of which in the following years became world #1 and another dozen who became top 100 ATP/WTA. All this based on the combination of various parameters, between them: Determination, Attitude, Impact Accuracy, Effectiveness, Efficiency, Environment (family, staff and other influencers).
Obviously in this short article, it is not possible to go into details, but it is interesting to note the similarity in many talent hotbeds.
I suggest, regarding this matter, a book in which I found similar concepts, to everyone interested in this field: The talent code, by Daniel Coyle (Arrow books).
The author visited and analysed a certain number of hotbeds, in different fields, in particular sport, music and education, and identified three factors, common to all these places, where skills above the average have been expressed.
The first is what he called DEEP TRAINING, referring to tennis we can define it as a way of practicing in which the players are very much involved and focused on getting and feeling details for each given skill (a deep connection between body and mind).
The second has been defined as IGNITION, I’d say a spark, a trigger situation, an inspiring source of motivation, that can be due to many different reason.
The third is MASTER COACHING, the quality of the guide, the level of knowledge of the coach (and the team around), and his ability to transfer the information useful to express the quality of each player as a unique individual.
Of course, in order for talents to be expressed at the highest level, there are other factors that need to fit the parts of the puzzle. Nevertheless the study of D. Coyle is very interesting and highlights various situations, worth knowing.
In conclusion I’d like to leave a short note, taken from my studies and experience, addressed to tennis players, families and teams: an individual can only become as good as his/her ability - to constantly progress, without being satisfied nor stick with what brought only short term achievements.