NEW YORK (Associated Press) – Imagine if they could pack a potion called “Just Serena.”
That was Serena Williams’s succinct and smiling explanation of how – at almost 41, match rust – she managed to defeat the world number two and advance on Wednesday to the third round of the US Open. So far, it doesn’t feel much like a goodbye. “I’m just Serena” She said, to the noisy crowd.
Obviously there is only one Serena. But as uncanny as many have found her accomplishment, some older fans in particular – middle-aged or later – said they saw Williams’ latest run as something very humane and also dependable. And it’s the idea that they, too, can perform better and for longer than they thought possible – through fitness, practice, and persistence.
“It makes me feel good about what I’ve been doing so far at my age,” said Bess Brodsky Goldstein, 63, a lifelong tennis fan who attended the Tennis Open on Thursday, the day after Williams’ victory over 26-year-old Annette. Kontavit.
Goldstein pursues her passion for sports more aggressively than most women of her age. She plays several times a week and participates in the USTA mixed doubles tournament 55 and over in New England. (She also plays competitive golf).
However, Goldstein, like any athlete, struggles with aches and injuries, such as her recent knee problem that put her back on her for a few weeks. She said watching Williams shows ordinary people that injuries – or, in Williams’ case, the life-threatening experience of giving birth five years ago – can be overcome. “It gives you inspiration that you can achieve your best, even in your early 60s,” said Goldstein, who also paid tribute to Serena’s older sister Venus Williams, who participated this year at the age of 42.
Evelyn David was also watching tennis at the World Open on ThursdayShe, too, had been thinking about the night before.
“Everyone go, whoa!” She is “older than my sixties,” said David, who said with a grin that she is the manager of New York Junior Tennis Learning, which works with children and teens. She cited fitness in Williams’ playing, and the role of fitness in tennis today. “The rigorous training athletes go through now is different,” David said. “She’s going, I’m not falling. I can reach the ball.”
David described Williams’ performance as “completely inspiring” – and she’s had some notable businesses.
“Can I put something into perspective here?” Former champ and ESPN commentator Chris Evert said during the broadcast on Wednesday. “This is a 40-year-old mom. It amazes me.”
Evert retired at the age of 34 in 1989, long before fitness and nutrition were the preeminent factors in tennis as they are now. They were even less so when lead athlete Billie Jean King, 78, was in her heyday.
“For those of us who are older, it gives us hope and fun,” King said Thursday in an interview about Williams. “Pep puts in your stride. It gives you energy.” She noticed how fitness on the tour had changed since the 1960s and 1970s.
“We didn’t have the information and we didn’t have the money,” King said. “When people win a championship now, they say, ‘Thank you to my team.’ They are so lucky to have all these people. We didn’t even have a coach.”
Jessica Pegola, the No. 8 seed who won on Thursday, is 28 and a half centuries younger than King. She knows very well the difference fitness has made.
“It was a big part of it,” she said. “Athletes, how they take care of their bodies, sports nutrition, the science behind training and nutrition — (it) has changed a lot. Back in the day, I saw a player drinking Coca-Cola on the sidelines or sipping a beer after a game. Now… health was priority #1. be it physical or mental.” She said she remembered thinking Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Williams would retire, but “they kept pushing the limits.”
Federer, 41, has not played since Wimbledon last year due to surgeries on his right knee, but said he will try to play at Wimbledon next year, shortly before his 42nd birthday. Nadal, 36, known for his extreme dedication to fitness, won two Grand Slam titles this year to take his total to 22 men’s records. And nobody would be surprised if he wins another major tournament. In contrast, Jimmy Connors’ famous race to the 1991 US Open semi-finals when he was 39 was considered an event for the history books.
Of course, fitness is only one building block of greatness – in any sport. Denver Broncos Safety, Justin Simmons, who is 28 as Pegula, noted that while it’s inspiring to see Williams retain an athletic advantage partly through preparation, “Not everyone is Serena and Venus Williams. Maybe there are some genes that don’t Everyone else enjoys her, but it’s still great to know that, even though she’s genetically gifted, there are some things she’s done that have greatly helped her prolong her career.”
Dr. Michael Joyner, who studies human performance at the Mayo Clinic, said Williams shares many traits with other super-athletes (from baseball player Ted Williams to golfer Gary Player and quarterback Tom Brady, 45 who is famously not retired). ) who have enjoyed long jobs.
“What you see with all these people is that they stay motivated, avoid catastrophic injury … or they manage to come back because they’ve recovered,” he said. Also key: They’re living in the “modern age of sports medicine.”
He wondered, could Williams perform at the same level every two days to win a full championship? So hoped.
Williams fan Jamie Martin, who has worked in physical therapy since 1985 and owns a chain of clinics in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said she sees many women playing strong, competitive sports into middle age and beyond. Some return to their sport, or take up a new sport, after years of focusing on work or family.
Williams’ pursuit of the US Open title again at the age of 40 is a reminder that women can not only stay in competition longer, but can now compete for the enjoyment of it, she notes.
Martin, 59, said: “She really enjoys playing it. That’s a joy to watch now.”
Brooklyn schoolteacher Mwezi Pugh says the Williams sisters are great examples of living life on their own terms – which includes deciding how long they want to play.
They still follow their own rules of the game. Are you ready to retire yet, Serena?” said Pugh, 51. I do not like this word. Better to say evolution. “Are you ready to retire, Venus?” ‘not today.'”
“As you get older, you should be able to set up your life the way you want to, and what works best for you,” Pugh said. “That’s what sisters do, and they’re teaching us all a lesson.”
Associated Press writers Marclair Dale, Howard Fendrich, and Arne Stapleton contributed to this report.
More AP coverage of US Open tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/us-open-tennis-championships and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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