By Mary Richardson, Editor-in-Chief
The Australian Open last week was both wild and routine. For some athletes, this tournament was a time to hit the re-set button and for others it was a call to enter the rebuilding years. Tense matches gave way to slam dunks, and expected performers had the rug pulled out from under them by new arrivals. We saw both the daring and endearing on a global stage (and brutally sweltering arena) as many poised players fought to be the best.
What was perhaps more interesting than the score of each match was watching the strategy and emotions play out as contestants were pushed to their physical and mental brinks. Here are a few thoughts on what lessons T-birds can gain from seeing some of the most refined and groomed athletes at their strongest and most vulnerable:
Bury Your Heroes
Novak Djokovic came to Melbourne with the guarded purpose to face off against the greatest rivals of his generation: the Rafael Nadals, the Roger Federers. Little did he know he’d be buckled by Hyeon Chung, a 21-year-old South Korean ranked 58th in the world, in a narrow defeat of 7-6, 7-5, 7-6. Some say that this victory is the heralding of a star, a sign of the new generation that is to arrive.
The shy, young South Korean gave a hesitant fist-pump to celebrate the most symbolic and monumental victory of his career thus far. When interviewed courtside, Chung said, “I don’t know how I did that. I’m just trying to copy Novak because he’s my idol… It’s a dream come true tonight.”
Tennis commentators gave glowing praise of the potential top player. The notably quiet Chung works hard, has discipline, and cares about his career and his performances. It seems like a simple combination, but this type of sincerity is hard to come across in any field.
Take away: Challenging your champions is a moment to work toward, not shy away from. Compete over your weight.
… But Still Acknowledge Your Limits
After such a shocking win against Djokovic, fans were excited to see how much farther Chung could make it into the tournament.
Unfortunately, not very. During the second set of his match against Federer, Chung unexpectedly withdrew himself, shocking just as many viewers as his previous triumph did. What happened? Why would he just give up like that? This game could have been his future. Entering this Open as a lion, how could he leave it as a lamb?
The reason: blisters. When viewers questioned this excuse, he posted a picture to prove the severity of his claim.
However, Chung still impressed viewers and peers with his ability despite this physical setback. Even having to bow out of the game against Federer, audiences could see how he beat Djokovic and Sascha Zverev with his intensity alone. Besides his strong strokes and form, Federer also noted what else could place Chung amongst the greats: “He’s very steady mentally. Today I’m sure he was having a lot of pain… And you couldn’t tell almost. I like that — about the idea of hiding any problems from the opponent. That was very impressive, to be honest.”
Take away: Test your limits, but don’t be afraid to also say when they’ve been met. People will still remember your performance, even if it wasn’t No. 1 this time.
Know Your Quest
Having just won her first Grand Slam, Caroline Wozniacki has a lot to celebrate. The Danish player, now the No. 1 in the world, is most known for her weaponized backhand, aggressive yet agile footwork, and deft anticipation of her opponent’s next move. And much to the chagrin of some tennis fans, she’s also known for posing in a painted-on swimsuit for a Sports Illustrated shoot.
Though Wozniacki’s not the first female athlete to have done a photo shoot like this, it brought up the same questions around what a progressive woman or role model looks like in this day and age. Are we supposed to celebrate female athletes for having the right to choose whether they want to do this? Is it empowering? Or is this when we condemn someone for serving as another piece of eye candy despite all of her accomplishments and talent?
Accused of not being all about tennis and letting fame and vanity get in the way of her game, Wozniacki gave little to no response for such criticism. Her achievements now easily speak for her.
Take away: Realize success — and your own choices. Set externalities aside, and do what you love and find the most inspiration in. When you know your intentions and strengths, what people say will fall to the wayside.
Make Your Comeback
From 2012-2017 Federer didn’t win one Grand Slam. Audiences, fans, and experts said his tennis career was over, but despite all of this chatter, things have certainly turned around for the Swiss star. Federer not only sealed a W for the Australian Open, he’s also broken records and pulled further ahead as the currently ranked best player in the world (if not ever).
The adrenaline performer roots his success in being able to bring an explosive end to his matches at the time his opponents fade. Being the second oldest player to win a Grand Slam title in the Open Era, 36-year-old Federer has won three of the last five. With 20 Grand Slam victories under his belt, that’s four more than his nearest competitor Nadal and places him in the “20s Club” with Serena Williams, Steffi Graf, and Margaret Court. The sheer longevity is remarkable.
Take away: Your game is never done until you say it is. Also, real men cry.