Thursday, February 2, 2017

Investing in the Olds

There is something to be said for continuing to invest in talent and experience.  I can think of few fields in which the more experienced masters are pressured to get out to make room for the young.  Sports can be desperately cruel.  Tennis has mastered the art of rejection because of age.

In this tennis is no different from Hollywood.  The movie industry is littered with the career corpses of actors who can no longer pretend to be ingénues.  Take Jennifer Lawrence, who went from playing 16-year-old Katniss to a 40-year-old mop sales woman.  There is no room in movies for the Olds.  Or maybe just for Meryl Streep.

But Meryl is a fantastic actress not just because of her talent but also because of her tremendous experience. The more you do something—especially when you have a talent for doing it – the better you become, and the more confidently you perform.

Sadly, there have been many tennis careers in which talent was clearly wasted on the young.  When such players retire, I say good riddance.  If you can’t appreciate the talent and opportunities you have been bestowed, I won’t waste my breath applauding you. 

Nick Kyrgios seems to be on the brink of that moment when a player has to decide if to squander youth and talent – and have no doubt that it is a decision being made, whether the process is conscious or not – or invest time and experience.  Investing is hard work that is often grinding and lacking in fun.  The payoff comes later in the form of the delayed gratification of a long and satisfying tennis career.   

Compare him with Lucic-Baroni who seems to have been to hell and back and is determined to still be standing.  What a beautiful run at the Australian Open.  How impressive was her cheeky spirit, her renewed commitment to tennis.  Her maturity and resilience were evident.

Which is why I have more respect for those coaches who decide to invest their time and energy in the more experienced and talented tennis players, than the ones forever skirting the edges of Junior tennis looking for the next big thing.  Which is why I have a ton of respect for coaches like Stephan Edberg and David Witt.  

Approached by the Williams sisters to become their hitting partner in 2002, Witt’s role has since been formalized into a primary coaching relationship with Venus.  He has been there through her ups and downs, through a 2011 diagnosis of Sjögrens Syndrome, a fall to a ranking of 102, a return to top form with finalist at the 2017 Australian Open, and a current ranking of 11.  That is determination and grit.  How is that not worth investing in?

Let Venus keep playing for as long as she remains fit and healthy, I say.  Same for Serena.  Let Roger continue to show that it is possible to balance work and family, a struggle at which Novak seems to be failing.  Students of tennis benefit from watching the masters at work, not from brief glimpses of dazzling newcomers who turn out to be just a flash in the pan.  

(Part 2 of 2)

No comments: