Teens take control of tennis. It might not end well.

It’s been a hell of a run for teens at the US Open, especially a bright-eyed and alluring troika who managed to make the Billie Jean Kin...


It’s been a hell of a run for teens at the US Open, especially a bright-eyed and alluring troika who managed to make the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center their personal playground.

Like young stockbrokers who have yet to see a bear market, Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez and Carlos Alcaraz live the best of tennis life: match after match, enthusiastic crowds chanting their names and asking for selfies, pass by. shots that cut the back of the line, and the freedom to swing their rackets on a stage where they can’t lose, because no one was counting on them to win in the first place.

And yet, they don’t have to look far to see how quickly this can go off the rails.

“Buckle up, it’s a long drive,” Shelby Rogers, the American veteran and latest Raducanu victim, said Sunday when asked what advice she could offer the trio of teenagers for the end of their days. races at the US Open.

Naomi Osaka was just emerging from her teens three years ago when she upset Serena Williams to win this tournament. Three years, three Grand Slam titles, nearly $ 20 million in cash prizes and tens of millions more in sponsorships later, the Osaka tournament this time ended in a loss to Fernandez, followed by ‘a tearful announcement that she will take indefinite time off from tennis. Iga Swiatek, the Polish star who won the 2020 French Open at 19 without losing a set, spent much of her upset loss on Monday against Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic yelling at her coach and the traveling sports psychologist with her.

It is now accepted that tennis tends to eat its young people like few other sports. Managing life as a young star on the tennis circuit is a physical and mental test that stumbles almost every player at some point, especially those who are successful early on and are suddenly expected to compete at the highest level almost every day. times they run. .

A ranking and ranking system places a number next to their name, allowing them and the world to know in the clearest way who should win a given match. Guaranteed sponsor payments can ease the burden of gambling for your next meal or plane ticket. However, these contracts are often loaded with incentive bonuses to win tournaments and move up the leaderboard. It is implicitly understood that the contract will at best be reduced and at worst not renewed if players do not maintain a certain skill level.

The attention, from millions of fans but also from the family, goes both ways, say sports psychologists, especially in a sport with so many parent-trainers. Fernandez’s mother has been at the forefront of her daughter’s upheaval against Osaka and former world No.1 Angelique Kerber. She leaned over the rails and screamed when Fernandez won over the bigger points. Success naturally brings this kind of enthusiasm, but can also produce the fear that love will disappear if victory ends.

Fernandez’s father, Jorge, is also his trainer. He’s at home in Florida with his younger sister, she said, but he calls every day with a game plan for the next game, “just telling me what to do the night before, then he trusts me and in my game, that I will perform it as much as I can.

They may not be confident under pressure as much as they play without pressure, which allows them to swing freely without fear of not living up to expectations.

“I think only youngsters” can play that way, Kerber said on Sunday after Fernandez beat her in straight sets with blistering forehands and fearless serves into the corners of the service area. Kerber, 33, won three Grand Slam titles and was ranked No.1 in 2017. For several years she struggled with injuries, inconsistency and the idea that she should always be on top of the sport. .

“To play completely without pressure, in this position, it’s impossible, but I want to,” she said.

Oddly enough, for much of the past decade, tennis players, coaches and officials have generally accepted that the sport is beyond the adolescent stage. Equipment that allowed for powerful shots from previously impossible angles prolonged points and matches, emphasizing the importance of mature strength and conditioning to a degree that made it too difficult for teens to compete at the highest level of the game, especially on the men’s side.

Then rising American Coco Gauff started winning matches at Wimbledon in 2019 when she was just 15. Now a collection of his physically advanced peers are making their mark.

Raducanu beat Rogers in his Arthur Ashe Stadium debut on Monday. On Tuesday Fernandez will face Elina Svitolina of Kazakhstan in the quarter-finals, while Alcaraz will face Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada.

Raducanu, who is in his first summer competing in top-level competitions, impressed again on Monday. She gave up the first two games, then won 11 of the next 12 and won 6-2, 6-1, showing off her exquisite combination of graceful athleticism and smooth, laced groundstrokes. She has lost a combined total of just four games in her last two games. When Rogers’ last ball settled into the net, Raducanu dropped his racquet, fell to his knees and covered his eyes in disbelief.

Martin Blackman, general manager of player development at the United States Tennis Association, has said in recent years that older, better and more physically developed teens have started to avoid junior tournaments, instead of cut your teeth in low-level professional events, while balancing competition, training and rest.

“So they go under the radar and then they emerge on the big stage,” he said.

There can be no guarantee that they will not succumb to the challenges of gambling – being on the road for months on end, living up to rising expectations, and dealing with the inevitable physical losses and ailments.

“It’s a perilous prospect,” David Law, a BBC tennis commentator who previously worked for ATP, said on Sunday as he settled down for Raducanu’s match. “It can go wrong. We have seen it go wrong.

Law doesn’t have to look far to remember it. One of her BBC colleagues is Laura Robson, who at 18 made the fourth round of the US Open in 2012 with victories over Kim Clijsters, one of the best players in the world, and Li Na, the Chinese star. She appeared on the path to greatness. Two years later, she was battling a wrist injury from which she would never fully recover.

Frances Tiafoe, the 23-year-old American, spoke on Sunday night after her fourth-round loss to Auger-Aliassime about his efforts to recover from the hype surrounding his rapid rise to the top 50 in 2018, when he was seen as the savior of American men’s tennis.

“I thought I was just going to keep going,” he said. ” It does not work like that. The same work that you did to get there, the same work that you need to keep going, keep working harder.

Despite the caveats, it’s almost impossible not to be swept away by the excitement of seeing new talent burst onto the scene at one of the sport’s biggest showcases. It is a breathtaking experience that tennis has long thrived on.

Alcaraz, a Spaniard already dubbed “the next Rafa” after his compatriot, 20-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal, said he knew he had become a subject of fascination at home in recent days.

“I try not to think about it,” he said on Sunday after beating Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk in the fourth round, his second straight win in five sets. “Just focus on New York, everyday here.”

It’s a good start, said Mary Carillo, tennis commentator and former Grand Slam doubles champion. Carillo has seen tennis crack so many rising stars, from game-winning Andrea Jaeger to Mardy Fish, who battled anxiety and mental illness at the peak of her career. Her heart sinks whenever she sees players checking their phones for what’s being said about them on social media as soon as they leave the pitch.

Survival, she says, comes down to the things we learn in kindergarten: Get enough sleep; don’t talk to strangers; don’t listen to what they say about you; stay away from bad people.

“You really better make sure you have the right people on your ball club,” Carillo said. “People who understand your values, your ambitions, what you can take and especially when you need time to step back.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Teens take control of tennis. It might not end well.
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