Under pressure

by Carl Dyke

Watching the Australian Open men’s final out of one eye, reading a spectacularly bad 19th C novel with the other. The tennis is unbelievable. Djokovic and Murray are putting each other under immense pressure, such that to compete, each has to be performing right at the limits of his capacity.

These are both guys who win most of their matches rarely going over 80% output. As of now, they’ve both been running at 100% for over 2 hours, and they’re barely out of the second set. For what it’s worth, at my recreational level I am mentally exhausted after two minutes of coaxing the best out of myself.

Both guys are making incredible shots look routine, and the errors they’re making are not chokes, but the result of forcing each other to go for a little bit more than makes prudent sense on every ball.

Artist Rachel is struck by the enormous inputs that are required to enable that kind of hyperspecialization of focus. They are in ‘the zone’, what she calls ‘art head’. Everything other than tennis is taken care of for them by someone else, and always has been. She thinks wistfully of what she could create if she never had to worry about anything but creating.

There’s nothing automatic about that chemistry, though. I’m thinking about how long it’s been since there was a critical mass of that kind of mental focus and toughness in the women’s game. Today’s women get all those advantages of managed life. They are physical marvels and magnificent players, like the men easily superior to their predecessors as ball-striking machines. But with the exception of Serena Williams, the top women of this generation are all mental crumblers, as we saw most notably in current #1 Victoria Azarenka’s shameful performance against Sloane Stephens (herself quite promising in this respect) in the Aussie semifinal.

We have only to go back to Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and perhaps Justine Henin to see there’s no sex to this trouble. But gender there must be. Any thoughts about how?

2 Responses to “Under pressure”

  1. Murray has now lost the third set and is down two breaks in the fourth, his level clearly dropping. It appears blistering feet are a factor. Really, Team Andy? Thousands of hours on court, top equipment customizable within a micron, and you haven’t figured this out? Just goes to show that there’s nothing seamless about human performance.


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