Sport is an interesting concept. For thousands of years (including the Ancient Olympics) people have pushed themselves to their physical limits in order to achieve athletic greatness. In modern times, the dopamine from winning and competing (as well as the added benefit of a life purpose, daily structure and a career), has been the driving force for athletes continuing to do what they do. Thus, retirement is never an enjoyable or an easy decision to make, and most elite athletes dread the day the have to give up a sport which has been their life since they were a child.
Nevertheless, with the US Open major right around the corner and just days away, the grand slam spirit is already in the air. Over the weekend, we saw the elation of a number of qualifiers who were able to secure a place in the main draw of the US Open. Despite just qualifying, you can clearly see what it means to each player.
Waiting the night before a big grand slam matchup is often described by tennis players as one of the hardest nights to try to get some sleep. Often players describe it as being the most nervous they have ever been in their lives. Most would make scenarios in their head about how the match would eventuate . Playing out the outcome of the match, the break points, the set points, the match points. This is clear with big matches over the years for journeyman, such as John Millman’s fairy-tale US Open run in 2018, when he stunned Federer in the 4th round and had to face Djokovic in the quarter-final of a major. While it may not seem like a big deal to most, a quarterfinal at a major could be the biggest achievement of a person’s life.
However, to the topic of grand slam finals. The big 3 in their prime made it seem almost effortless to win a grand slam. It is so difficult to even make a grand slam final. Many have never been able to experience the feeling of even losing a grand slam final. However, winning can also be so temporary. The elation, the euphoria, the child who dreamt every night of being in this situation, can begin and end so quickly. The feeling, despite being the most intense feeling a tennis player could ever experience, is ephemeral. A few months down the track, another major waits, and you want that one.
Now in the context of continuing the sport they love at the expense of results, it is clear some players love the feeling of competing more than just winning a set amount of tournaments. For instance, Andy Murray, despite all the naysayers, managed to bring himself back from the tennis abyss and into the world’s top 50, with a current rank of 49 in the world. It is clear that Andy Murray loves competing more than anything-yet often after a loss fans can begin to call for his retirement from the sport.
This begs a discussion: hypothetically, if you were a player, would you prefer to win 10 grand slams by 35 and make 2 grand slam finals each year until you were 60, or would you prefer to win 20 grand slams at 35 but never play again?