Just five days into this year’s US Open at Flushing Meadows, NY, and we have seen numerous surprises. I mean, surprises are to be expected in a Slam, or in any tournament in fact, amd we tend to see anything from at least a couple, to at most a handful, of upsets.
But this year, we’ve seen a BIG handful… and week 1 isn’t even over yet. Konta. Kerber. Gasquet. Halep. Kygrios. Dimitrov. Tsonga. Cilic.
The list goes on…
What on earth is happening?!
Here’s my attempt at breaking down exactly what’s going on:
1. End of season fatigue
Being one of the last events of a looong season, many players are simply feeling the effects of a intense calendar year — both physically and mentally. Competitive tennis is a strain on the body and on the mind, with the focus, concentration + mental effort required, plus the actual physicality of match after match after match. And that’s just on the court, there’s more of that off-court too, from the practice sessions through to time spent at home — preparing meals, getting sleep, and so forth. This is certainly a contributing factor as to why we have seen so many pre- and during-tournament injuries.
2. A big group of middle-of-the-rangers
Inevitably, we have just a select few Grand Slam winners on both sides of the draw, followed by a select-few first-timers, etc,m and then there are a big group of ‘middle players’, includng — say — the top-50 ranked players (or those who’ve not won a Slam, at least); the womens’ world numbers #1 and #2 have never won a Slam, for example.
This bell curve represents this nicely:
As an addition — some of these ranked players are fairly new additions (e.g. Ostapenko), whilst others have been highly-ranked players for the last 5–10+ years. Forget the fact that there are no easy matches, the longer that one plays tennis and doesn’t make it to the second week of a Slam, or say reach the QF, SF, Final, end up as a Grand Slam Champion… the more difficult it gets, mentally. Getting through each round is a personal, internal battle.
For example, once you have a reached a Quarter-Final, it becomes more believable in yourself for you to do it again. In a similar way, after the 4-minute mile was phenomenally accomplished for the first time by Roger Bannister in 1954, a major milestone, hundreds and hundreds broke it in the mere months that followed. They knew it was possible.
3. Some outstanding and some lacklustre performances
Again, this is tennis, and sometimes it’s jut not your day. Other times, you play some great tennis and things just go right for you. For example, Naomi Osaka and Andrey Rublev — both securing career-first top-10 wins at the US Open this week.
Both pre-tournament (Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka) and during (Nick Kyrgios, Mikhail Youzhny). This is a combination of bad luck, and the previously-mentioned long tennis season, during which strain on the body will inevitably manifest. Even as a top athlete in peak condition, the human body is human.
5. Seeds dropping out around you through loss + injury…
To be simplistic, either you’ll seize the opportunity and step up, or you’ll be thinking ‘that could be if I’m not careful’. In the latter scenario, you might play from a place of caution or even fear. It’s a fine line, and no doubt both the seeded and un-seeded players will be aware of what’s going on around them, and respond differently.
So, I’m still left in the tournament…how do I proceed from here?
– One key is FOCUS. Absolute focus on you, your game, your time off of the court, and doing what you need to do. Not focusing on what’s going on around you (see point 5). Not reading too much (if anything) online — if I was on tour, I would err on the side of caution with social media and perhaps even, knowing myself, staying off it during tournaments to maintain my sanity and focus.
For me personally, it’d just be too much of a distraction. At the very least, I would limit and set restrictions of my usage. This might not be necessary for everyone, but it’s a case of knowing yourself and being brutally honest about what is/isn’t good for you.
– Plenty of time for REST. Both resting the body — stretching, ice baths, sleep, the fundamentals. Everything to keep the body rested and in as good condition as possible between matches, and tournaments. And, of course, this overlaps with resting the mind — healthy body = healthy mind and sleep will do the same. The most sensible athletes will also go the extra mile on the mental side, for example incorporating stillness into their daily routines.
Aside: In the next couple of weeks I’ll be publishing a post titled “The advantages of being still as an athlete”.
And, particularly significant in the context of this year’s US draw right now:
I’d look around, and absorb the fact that — hey, what an opportunity the draw is for me right now. However, as I alluded to earlier, different plays will/are responding differently. One can try to lean towards calm and confidence, rather than fear and anxiety (again, there are ways to help build this mindset/philosophy… for future posts). A lot of the time, added self-imposed pressure can be stifling, and most would be better to keep taking each game at a time rather than thinking/dreaming too far ahead into the future.
World number #3 Garbine Muguruza, coming off the back of a stunning Wimbledon win and 2nd Grand Slam, appears to have grown and matured in recent months, and is treating every match she plays as a match to focus on and be won. This would appear a healthy attitude, and this shift in perspective/mindset/attitude/whatever you want to call it appears to be helping her.
If you stay focused and level-headed, on and off the court, and do what you can to keep your physical and mental self well, you won’t have as many regrets — no matter what the outcome is of that next match, even if it might be a loss.
With 5 days played, and 9 to go, anything can happen from here onwards in this US Open.
Whether the Mens’ and Ladies’ Draws are won be one of the favourites, or someone completely new (#nextgen), remains to be seen.
PS. If you’re curious, you can see a snapshot of my current ‘top-3 picks’
Saturday 2nd September, 2017