Sascha Zverev badly injured his right ankle at the end of his second set with Rafa Nadal in the Roland Garros semifinals. I’ve seen so many top players get hurt like that, right when they were making the most of their talent, training, and physical preparation. Clay, especially humid clay, can be so treacherous, and so is striving to be a little more than what you’re prepared for, especially when you’re riding a good wave.
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My heart goes out to Zverev but perhaps, just perhaps, he may have aimed at too much too fast—he could have been No. 1 if he won the French Open title—instead of simply enjoying each moment of play while in the zone. I’ve seen this so often in tennis players: they get aggravated, they push themselves, they burst into tears, even some of the greatest ones, they have panic attacks, they talk to themselves, they sometimes say horrible things . . . all out of a healthy desire to win laced with what often looks like a great dose of ambition.
Of course, ambition makes for amazing performances and athletes, so they need ambition to grow professionally, and we are inspired by the spectacle they put on for us. But they often play week after week, and as we’ve seen with Qinwen Zheng, also at the current edition of the Roland Garros Grand Slam tournament, sometimes women have menstrual cramps and their body can’t take the beating of a hard tennis match.
I’m in no position to judge these athletes and their teams. In fact, I quite admire the fact that athletes with lumbar hernias can play strenuous tennis matches. That says quite a lot for their physical trainers and the rest of their team. But I think some of these players may, just may, come to want too much too soon. And when I say too soon, I’m not referring to their age. Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam title at 17. Age is really not what matters. What matters is the trajectory of a certain player. Unfortunately, some players may think they’re already old for a Grand Slam at 23, or 24, or 25, so they may push themselves harder than they should, when in fact we all have different timing. Becoming aware of your own timing and believing in it is not easy, and yet it’s so important for all of us to embrace this notion and work with and within our own strengths and weaknesses, especially in this age, which puts such a premium on speed and getting somewhere faster than any would-be competitors (which we can see in the world of tech startups, for instance).
I’m not commenting on Sascha Zverev’s situation or any other athlete’s personal situation, but my advice to anyone aiming to hone their skills at something would be this: be in competition mostly with yourself, even as you (have to) compete with others, and remember to take your time if you feel you need to, and never push yourself to the max.
And always strive for more balance. I read in one of Nadal’s biographies (Rafa: My Story) that he prepares dinner for his family every night before a match. Now that’s something to emulate 🙂 This attitude and similar ones probably helped him in his efforts to reach the levels of performance that had taken him to 21 Grand Slams so far.
I hope Sascha Zverev gets well soon. I can’t imagine what he is going through.