Understanding Professional Tennis Burnout

And it ain’t just Osaka.

Are you old enough to remember this?

“Bjorn Borg of Sweden, a superstar of the 1970s and winner of 11 Grand Slam titles, lost his fourth U.S. Open final in 1981. He walked off the court, drove away in his car, and never played another Grand Slam tournament again. He was 25.” 

A sports psychologists concludes that:

“. . . players can survive careers — inevitably filled with losses and disappointment — only by working every day to build self-worth and self-confidence that is not measured by wins and rankings points but rather relationships.”

For me, the article begs the question, why doesn’t tennis allow a coach to sit courtside for encouraging chats during changeovers?

Osaka Says ‘Au Revoir’ To The French Open

The gist of the story

“Osaka, 23, . . . revealed that she has experienced depression and anxiety since winning her first major at the 2018 US Open and explained that speaking to the media often makes her nervous. She apologized to any media members she had impacted with her decision.

‘I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try and engage and give [the media] the best answers I can.'”

This is bigger than the French Open. Osaka is emblematic of a generation that struggles with anxiety disorders and mental health more generally. The question is how are employers going to adapt to their young, often anxious employees? The best course of action will hinge on the type of work. But it starts, in each case, with heightened sensitivity to the issue. 

In Osaka’s case, tennis needs her WAY more than she needs tennis. In 2020, she earned $50 million from tournaments and endorsements*. Osaka preferring Instagram to post-match pressers makes perfect sense because she can control the message and her social anxiety. It was painful watching her squirm under intense questioning about a poor performance in a previous tournament. Professional tennis “powers that be” should start thinking about how athletes can leverage their social media to increase their and their sport’s popularity. The post match presser is analog, social media is digital. Osaka isn’t saying she doesn’t want to interact with fans, she’s saying she just doesn’t want to do it live right after matches. 

When professional tennis comes to ask me what they should do, I will be brief. Always accommodate. 

*I suspect Osaka’s mental health challenges and transparency about them make her an even more popular endorser of products. I also suspect she’d forego many millions for peace of mind.

I Miss Tracy Austin

Serena is about to get bounced from the US Open. I think. By Tsvetana Pironkova a 5’11” Bulgarian.

As with the men, women’s professional tennis is now all about power. Everyone is tall and hella strong like Pironkova.

As the game speeds up, people of average height are being squeezed out.

A similar phenomenon is happening in men’s professional golf. Most of the top players are hitting bombs off the tee.

Power’s alright, but I miss drop shots, spin serves, and super long rallies. And watching bombers hit driver-short iron into par fives gets old fast.

And get off my yard!

Postscript—Never count Serena out until the final point.

Equal Pay for Equal Work

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is threatening not to play until they get paid the same as male National Team members.

Admirable, but the challenge is building a men’s-like revenue stream for salaries, meaning attracting the same quality and quantity of corporate sponsors. The men’s team gets paid more not because of some vast misogynist conspiracy, but because they have a lot more eyeballs on them both in person and on television.

Why do more people prefer to watch men play soccer than women? I don’t know. Women’s tennis is an interesting comparison. They’ve succeeded in creating similar prize money at least at Wimbledon and the other majors. A lot of people enjoy the women’s finesse and power game more than the men’s power game, probably because their rallies are longer and thus more interesting. In this ardent heterosexual’s opinion, women’s tennis is hella sensuous too (tmi?). Maybe women feel the same way about men’s soccer?

Yesterday, the Ladies Professional Golf Association held it’s first major in Palm Desert, CA. The winner, the best female player in the world, 18 year old Lydia Ko from New Zealand, earned $390k for her one stroke victory on a course I once hacked my way around with the best father-in-law one could ever have. On the men’s side, “journeyman” Jim Herman won the run-of-the-mill  Houston Open for a cool $1,224,000. Ko pocketed less than thirty three cents on the PGA dollar.

Again, way more people prefer watching men’s professional golf than women’s, creating vastly different revenue streams. Why, I’m not sure. It’s okay that I don’t know, but for the women professional athletes who are agitating for equal pay, they better figure it out if they want to succeed in closing the gap.