IN TENNIS, THIRTY IS THE NEW TWENTY: A 2015 US OPEN RECAP

September 17, 2015
Nykia Exner

The 2015 US Open only solidified the idea that thirty is the new twenty! The thirty-somethings represented themselves nicely over the course of the two-week tournament. While there were some definite stand-out youngsters who showed great promise, the old-timers reigned supreme. In fact, thirty-somethings were involved in every championship match – men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles – with some of them clenching the title.

Who can deny the greatness of the now 34-year-old Roger Federer? Though he fell in the final to Novak Djokovic (who is six years his junior), there is no denying that Fed is playing the best tennis of his life. He made it to the final without dropping a set. That is quite the accomplishment for any pro tennis player considering the level of today’s game. However, Djokovic is a human backboard and any tennis player knows that the backboard ALWAYS wins. He put a stop to Federer’s run, outfoxing him in a heroic four-setter, winning 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. It was an valiant victory against Federer and his new “Sneak Attack by Roger” strategy also known as “SABR” (pronounced sabre) which had Fed coming in on his opponent’s serve and taking the ball early to win the point quickly. Novak also had to take on a very loud and apparent pro-Federer crowd but he did so with grace and humility. Djokovic is seemingly unstoppable!

The women’s final was a thirty-something Italian affair. The match between compatriots and friends, Flavia Pennetta, 33, and Roberta Vinci, 32, while not quite as epic as the men’s final, was still fun to watch. Vinci, who took down Serena Williams in the semis (a match we’ll discuss soon enough), was just outclassed by Pennetta. Flavia was mentally tough, focused and ready to capture her first ever grand slam singles’ title with a winning scoreline of 7-6(4), 6-2. And not only did Flavia end her tournament with a bang, she brought to a close a very consistent and successful career in tennis by announcing her retirement from the sport during the trophy ceremony. Her smile and her fighting spirit will certainly be missed on the WTA tour.

By far, the biggest shocker and most important story of the tournament was Serena Williams’ loss to Roberta Vinci in the semifinal match. Serena, who will turn 34 years of age in the coming days, has been the most dominant player the WTA tour has ever seen. Her place in history is being engraved in every book as we speak. Serena was poised to do what only three other women have done in the open era (with the last being Steffi Graf in 1988) – win a calendar-year grand slam. That means Serena would hold the title to each of the four major tournaments within the same calendar year.

Each match Serena played leading up to that fateful semi was full of suspense and drama, knowing what was at stake. She was tested but prevailed over and over again. Her biggest test was against her sister, Venus, 35, who is back in supreme form over the last couple years. Watching those two gladiators battle is pure excitement! Serena was able to draw up the courage to beat her sister only to go down to Vinci in the very next match, 6-2, 4-6, 4-6.

So, how could the best player, arguably the Greatest of All Time, go down to an unseeded player in the semifinals? The answer: pure nerves and total pressure. Oh, and the fact that Roberta Vinci played the smartest tennis of her life. Vinci managed to mix up her shots and get nearly every ball back into play. Know who wins the point in tennis? It’s the player who gets the ball back in play every time without making a mistake. Serena made too many errors; Roberta played steadily and pulled out the W. But obviously, we haven’t seen the last of Serena Williams. She has said herself that she hates to lose and so we can fully expect her to return with a vengeance and a new fire. And although she will likely not achieve the calendar-year grand slam in her career, she will certainly win her 22nd major, tying her with Steffi Graf’s all-time record and will likely ultimately surpass that record. And Serena is still world number one at age 33. Not many across the sporting world can say that.

We can’t leave this tennis conversation without giving some love to doubles. Doubles is definitely quite thirty-something-friendly as is it much easier on the “aging” athlete’s body but is absolutely not lacking in competitiveness and excitement. Former world number one in singles, Martina Hingis, 34, has become a successful doubles’ specialist winning both the women’s doubles championship with partner, Sania Mirza, and the mixed doubles’ championship with partner, Leander Paes who is a proud member of the forty-something club (age 42). The men’s doubles championship was won by Nicolas Mahut, 33, and the nearly decade-younger Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

By the looks of the results of this year’s US Open tournament, the younger players seem to have a lot of work to do if they want to be contenders. In tennis, it rings true that with age comes wisdom. And wisdom has brought great success on the court as all of these thirty-something players have shown us that playing smarter wins matches. But regardless of our ages, we should remember that we should always strive to do our best. We can be great at any time in our lives!

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