US Open: Why it’s so difficult to win a second Grand Slam



CNN

When Emma Raducanu won the US Open last year, she dropped her racket, fell to the ground and covered her face in her hands.

It was a familiar scene, repeated over the years by first-time Grand Slam winners; Daniil Medvedev also fell to the ground by winning his first grand slam the day after Raducanu, as did Dominic Thiem a year earlier.

23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, who will “evolve away from tennis” after this tournament, also looked shocked when she won her first time at the 1999 US Open.

But after this moment of euphoria, there often seems to be a gap before the pinnacle can be reached again: 34 of the 45 Grand Slam winners for the first time since 2000 have had to wait at least a year for another, if they have won a second title to all.

Williams herself had to wait two and a half years to win her second Grand Slam.

Along with Williams, tennis has been dominated for 20 years by players for whom losing seems more difficult than winning: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Winning considerably more than one Grand Slam has become normalized, even predicted, somewhat obscuring the difficulties of claiming the first.

A then 18-year-old Emma Raducanu won the 2021 US Open without losing a set.

In tennis, a solitary individual sport that requires constant travel for 10 months of the year across different time zones and environments, the psychological pressure to win a Grand Slam is different than in other sports.

“Many times when there is social support, I look to my left, I look to my right, I see my teammate punching me … That kind of social support can go a long way for an individual to manage anxiety from performance, “sports psychologist Dr Jarrod Spencer explains to CNN Sport.

“But [when] it’s just one on one, you look to your left and right and you realize that you are alone. This requires a depth of self-esteem that is unlike anything else. ”

And with a unique scoring system that puts nearly every point at risk, much of tennis is “actually in the head,” like Eurosport’s expert and former world number one. 7Barbara Schett tells CNN.

Winning would seem to create a virtuous circle, deepening self-confidence which in turn creates confidence to be deployed at crucial points in tight matches.

“When I was in the top 10,” says Schett, “I was at the stage where I walked into the pitch and I thought, ‘I’m not going to lose this game. There’s absolutely no chance.’ I can only imagine how … the legends of our game would feel when they take to the pitch. ”

Schett has played Williams three times in her career and has never defeated her. They last met at the French Open in 2003 and Schett lost 6-0 6-0.

Barbara Schett played Serena Williams during the third round of the French Open.

“I had already lost the game before playing her because her presence on the pitch was just incredible,” recalls Schett.

“I just felt like, ‘How am I going to beat this girl? She is much better physically. She plays much harder. She believes in herself. And I’d better go to the locker room. ‘”

But winning can lead to a sense of fallibility and invincibility, creating a new set of expectations and goals that should not be underestimated.

In the aftermath of Raducanu’s triumph at the US Open, pundits rushed to hail her as a future Grand Slam winner due to her powerful groundstrokes and the return of consistently aggressive serve.

She garnered sponsors after sponsors and PR pundits tagged her with the potential to become Britain’s first billion dollar sports star.

“Everyone expected me to win every single tournament I would ever play again. It’s a bit unrealistic because perfection just doesn’t exist, ”Raducanu said in a recent interview with Nike.

A string of injuries ruined Raducanu’s first full year of touring with blisters, back problems, side strains and hip injuries that forced her to retire from various tournaments throughout the season.

Emma Raducanu played and defeated Serena Williams two weeks ago in Cincinnati.

In her three Grand Slam appearances since those magical two weeks in New York, Raducanu has only reached round two, falling on players ranked lower than her on every occasion.

“There’s a lot of external expectations about her,” Schett says. “Obviously, she wants to win another one. She wants to show everyone that she wasn’t a one day wonder or a two week wonder and that she can do more, but the pressure and expectations are extremely high in her case. ”

For a 19-year-old who competed in her first year on the WTA Tour, it was a solid if insignificant season, but the stratospheric expectations surrounding the Brit have reframed each defeat as something akin to catastrophic failure.

Goals, as well as expectations, change in the aftermath of a major victory like a Grand Slam title.

Dominic Thiem has experienced a similar trajectory to Raducanu’s since winning his first grand slam at the 2020 US Open, plummeting out of the top tiers of the game to a ranking at No. 352

A persistent wrist injury hindered the Austrian, as he came to terms with his new Grand Slam winner status.

“When you fight for a goal, you leave everything for it and reach it, everything changes,” Thiem told the Austrian newspaper Der Standard in April 2021.

“However, in tennis, everything goes very fast, you don’t have time to enjoy the victory and if you are not 100% you lose. It happened to me this year. ”

Dominic Thiem celebrates winning the 2020 US Open final against Alexander Zverev.

To explain the psychological effects of achieving an important goal, Spencer compares it to a more everyday experience: eating.

“When you are hungry, you will do whatever it takes to get food,” he says. “And then once you reach that satiety point where you feel full, then it’s like you can’t eat another bite, I don’t want anything for a while.”

“And so it’s very normal and natural, just like eating a big meal that sometimes an athlete, after winning something really meaningful, might just lose a bit of a boost for a while.”

The emotional costs of elite sport are becoming more evident every year as athletes start talking openly about mental health and its importance.

At last year’s French Open, four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka retired to protect her mental health after a furor broke out following her refusal to conduct post-match press conferences.

He later revealed that he had “suffered long periods of depression” and “huge waves of anxiety” since his first Grand Slam triumph in 2018.

Iga Swiatek, meanwhile, praised her sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz for the role she played in helping her win the French Open in 2020.

Managing the “emotional energy” that sport exhausts is key to recalibrating an athlete’s goals and expectations, explains Spencer.

Thiem began rebuilding after his year in the wild, winning his first ATP Tour match in 14 months with a first round win over the Bastad Open against Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori in July 2022.

“My last win was in Rome in 2021, somehow it feels like a different world,” he later said, according to the BBC.

“Many, many things have happened. It was tough, but it was also a very good experience, I think for life in general. I am so happy to have achieved this first win here today. ”

Dominic Thiem reached the quarter-finals of the Austrian Open in July this year.

In recent weeks, Raducanu has also shown flicker of form that brought her to tennis stardom with wins over Williams and Victoria Azarenka at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati before losing to Jessica Pegula in the third round, only her second match in absolute against one of the top 10 players.

He will face Alizé Cornet in the first round of the US Open when his title defense begins, while Thiem – also present at the tournament for the first time since winning it – will play Pablo Carreño Busta.