Old-School Tennis Stars Can’t Let Go
The problem with veteran tennis players is that they can’t separate themselves from the past. They still have the agony-of-defeat mentality in the press box, but it just doesn’t translate to today’s explosive and rigorous play.
Earlier this week during an ESPN broadcast, Wimbledon champion Chris Evert compared her match against Tracy Austin in 1979 — who then became the youngest ever US Open champion, at age 16, defeating Evert and ending her 125-match winning streak — to the 2013 US Open match between Serena Williams and the up and coming 20-year-old Sloane Stephens. Evert said during her commentary that Serena would be tense against Stephens because the youth has age on her side. I disagree.
Because Williams lost to Stephens at the Australian Open in January doesn’t mean that the 31-year-old needs to buckle down in order to beat Stephens in future matches because of age. In fact, I believe that Williams’ loss made her even more determined to beat the young Wimbledon champion hopeful, and it likely fueled her desire to win at yesterday’s Open.
An Austin-Evert match-up does not compare to singles competitors of today. The player mindset, today, co-exists with more powerful athleticism and mental will. Larger prize money equals larger egos, and large egos often dictate one’s will to stay on top.
Williams being potentially worried about Stephens is like saying that a high-level professional athlete should be worried about competing with a high school junior varsity player who’s wet behind the ears. I’m not taking away from Stephens whose talent is undeniable, but she does have a lot of time to hone her focus in the years to come.
Gone are the days of wooden racquets that vibrated in the hands of veteran players with their dainty baseline play and just above-the-knee skirts.
Ten years from now, I’ll be arguing the same points about 2023 tennis champions. After all, in sports, time is on no one’s side.