At Wimbledon 2018, upon being told by a reporter that Madison Keys had said that it must be tough to be Serena because everyone always plays their best against her, Serena offered this elucidating response, clarifying the kind of pressure that she faces in every single match:
“I’m glad someone admitted that. Of course Madison does. She’s just so smart and so on it, but yeah, every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby or a surgery or it doesn’t matter, these young ladies bring a game that I’ve never seen before. It’s interesting because I don’t even scout as much because when I watch them play is a totally different game than when they play me. It’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater.”
Of all the cumulative sources of pressure affecting Serena during that match against Osaka, I believe that one of the unacknowledged sources was the courtside presence of Sascha Bajin, her former hitting partner, coach, and confidant. I cannot imagine the pressure that Serena must have felt knowing that seated close by was the man who, for eight years came to know her game the best, and who, for the second time, had coached a young woman in the tactics of beating her.
And how does it affect the player to see a former, critical member of their team now sitting front and center in their opponent’s box? There must be some kind of psychological sense of betrayal that the player would need to mentally block out so that they could focus on the game. Serena’s meltdown suggested (to me) a complete failure of psychological coping. Could this be due (at least in part) to the presence of Sascha Bajin in Naomi Osaka’s box?
As I said in Part 1 of this entry, I believe that Serena Williams has been operating under constant, unrelenting pressure, from many different sources. That kind of pressure was likely one of the factors in her shocking, rage-fueled US Open meltdown. It was my compassion for the amount of pressure that she has been under that allowed me to see past the rage and wonder if there might be some fear beneath, some doubts about being able to get to 24.
But I quickly self-corrected. Serena Williams does not do fear. Serena Williams does not do doubt. Serena Williams does anger, aggression, and Jehovah-inspired self-righteousness. Those seem to be her go-to stress coping modalities. And they were on full display as Naomi Osaka kicked her ass.
(Part 2 of 2)