2014 Australian Open. Who would have imagined Serena would lose the tournament?
Pressure. Plain and simple, good old ever-present oppressive pressure. When a player, their camp, fans, non-fans, reporters, pundits, bookies, little kids who have no knowledge of tennis but know a Serena or Vika or Maria’s name…in general, the entire world all hold the same expectation of victory, that’s the most likely time for a “fail.”
The pressure under which an athlete toils in these situations transforms from pressure to outright fear. You can sense it, smell it, see the strained expressions, the tight non-fluid movements. It’s almost as though they’re about to be attacked by some heinous creature.
Well, they are.
In fact the attack is well under way when those telltale signs manifest. They’re already in the clutch of the “beast of fear,” and it’s devouring them little by little, on the big stage, in front of the entire viewing public.
For fans of the devouree, it’s an awful sight to see. For the opponent, it creates burgeoning confidence, an almost maniacal euphoria in the knowledge that he/she is “choking.”
For the player in the jaws of “the beast,” it’s a most terribly humiliating experience.
Loss in athletics is one thing, it’s natural, just part of the game. But loss while engulfed in the throes of fear, well, that’s quite another because it actually becomes a sort of mini nervous breakdown.
“As the mind goes, so goes the game.”
Need supporting evidence? Okay. Look at the chronology of events so far.
1. Serena, the prohibitive favorite to win her 18th singles slam falls to an inspired, fearless
2. Ivanovic now becomes a clear favorite to defeat 19-year-old Canadian, Bouchard, playing in her first-ever slam. Of course Ivanovic falls…nervously.
3. With Serena deposed, Sharapova feels relieved but at the same time pressured. She’s expected to beat Cibulkova. She loses…nervously.
4. With both Serena and Sharapova out, Azarenka becomes the heavy, heavy favorite. She promptly loses to a crafty administration of all-court, all-shot play by the ever wily Radwanska.
2. Naturally, predictably, nervously, Radwanska is bludgeoned by Cibulkova.
Meanwhile, in the lower portion of the upper half of the draw, Li Na has had a relatively easy time advancing having not faced a seriously threatening player. She gets by Bouchard in straights.
So, the finals are set. Li Na vs Cibulkova.
On paper, Li Na must be installed a solid favorite to hoist the trophy. After all, she’s a slam winner, has far more experience on the big stage and plays an aggressive brand of tennis.
And, therein lies the real conundrum for Li Na–she’s expected to win!
Thus, if current form holds,
then Li Na folds
and in the end
Cibulkova will win!
Maybe Li Na can buck the trend…