†You must have really thick leather“. At least as much as pure tennis or physical qualities, to stay on the track, the mind, in the broad sense, is essential to shine and, even more, to stay at the highest level. We are not talking about psychological feathers here. in the expression of the game, to save a match point or go for a win in a decisive tie-break, but in the management of everything that involves the practice of professional tennis. You must have thick leather, as says Chris Evert to Eurosport.
†It’s not easy to live the life of a top player, believes the American legend with 18 Grand Slam titles. There are all kinds of pressures that you have to deal with that people don’t know about. We, as former champions, probably understand this better than the general public.†
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The phenomenon is not new. Is it more important today than ten, twenty or thirty years ago? Perhaps. But it’s mostly more on the table. For Boris Becker, who was raised to the rank of demigod in Germany at the age of 17 after his first Wimbledon win, it was only the release of his autobiography in 2004, after the end of his career, to gauge what he had experienced. Becker took anti-anxiety drugs for years. He became rich, famous, fulfilled his childhood dreams, but he lived an abnormal life for a teenager and a young adult.
Glory and disappointment. 1985, the Boris Becker madness in Germany.
privilege and burden
The paradox is that living this life is both a privilege (Rafael Nadal has often reminded us of this lately, without anyone criticizing it) and possibly a burden. Some can handle it better than others. It all depends on personality, experience, personal balance or, to use Chris Evert’s expression, the thickness of the leather. Age too, no doubt.
In the current context, Emma Raducanu’s case is symbolic. Unknown a few months ago, the young Briton was propelled to stardom in one summer. The wind picked up at Wimbledon, and two months later the tornado swept through New York when he won the US Open. His career is an absolute dream, but the sudden emergence, at less than 19 years old, necessarily carries some “danger” with it.
Credit: Getty Images
†Being a star in Britain is probably the hardest thing there is for a player, says Evert. Even more than in the United States, where there are already so many stars in other sports. With the tabloids cheering you on when things are going well, but not supporting you when you’re having problems, you have to be really tough. I think she has it, but it’s hard. When I say you have to have thick leather, that’s not a criticism, it’s a reality†
What are you complaining about?
If he talks about it today, it’s because he’s better, but also because he feels he has the right to bring up the subject. Nothing, of course, forbade it before, but the weight of guilt, or that of shame, prevented it. The high-level player, a fortiori the great champion, must, or at least be believed, or he believes, to be strong, almost indestructible. †I thought I had no right to feel bad when everyone dreamed of being me“, wrote Becker. In short, what are you complaining about? Returning the image of fragility and accepting it as a bonus takes courage.
We have to thank Naomi Osaka for this. It will not have been in vain that a champion like her, a four-time Grand Slam title holder, puts her difficulties in the public square. It has undoubtedly even opened a way. Having thick leather is essential. But admitting weakness is not weakness. It’s a force. †I understand you feel that opening up will make you feel weak or scared. I’m telling you now, it’s alright, you’re not aloneKyrgios claimed on Feb. 25.
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Stress, tension and even unease can be expressed in a thousand ways on the pitch. All cases are different, and a tirade against a referee like Daniil Medvedev’s at the Australian Open during his semifinal against Stefanos Tsitsipas is unlikely to be like a flood of tears in the middle of a match or at a press conference.
Tennis is a sport, it is not a life
But what is certain is that the circuit seems to be evolving in some form of permanent voltage lately. Every week has its incident(s), from Zverev’s “crack” in Acapulco to tears from Osaka to Indian Wells or the abandonment in Miami of Victoria Azarenka expressing the “need to take a break”. Fatigue, stress, impact of the Russo-Ukrainian war on Belarusian (such as Azarenka) or Russian players, the reasons could be several. It is difficult, however, beyond the various causes, not to note a global climate.
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†I don’t know of any other sport where the referee is so insultednotes Chris Evert. I am concerned about the behavior of the players and even afraid to see them emotionally crumble in the middle of a match, to leave the field in the middle of a match. I worry about relapse. I don’t judge the players, but it is a concern. Why are so many players losing control? Why do they cringe so emotionally? It really is something that needs to be addressed immediately†
The “good” news is that with the gradual liberation of speech, this is followed by action. Naomi Osaka started working with a psychologist, and she is not alone. †Having a therapist is becoming more common, and I love it, because it shows that they really want to address the problem.‘, Evert says again.
The key, she says, is to find the right perspective, even though she’s well aware that the solution is more obvious to say than to put into practice: “Tennis is a sport, it is not a life. The danger is that your identity only comes down to victory or defeat. You’re a winner when everything goes right and the day you lose, you’re a loser to the rest of the world. All this has consequences for you, for your emotional and mental health.†
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