NEW YORK (AP) – Imagine if they could bottle a potion called “Just Serena.”
That was Serena Williams’ succinct, smiling explanation of how, at nearly 41 years old and with a rusty game, she had managed to defeat the world number two and advance to the third round of a US Open on Wednesday that, until now, had not . doesn’t feel like much of a goodbye. “I’m just Serena,” she told roaring fans.
Clearly, there is only one Serena. But as superhuman as many found her success, some older fans in particular, middle-aged and beyond, said they also saw in Williams’ latest career a very human and relatable takeaway. That is, the idea that they, too, could perform better and longer than they previously thought possible, through fitness, practice and strength.
“It makes me feel good about what I’m doing even at my age,” said Bess Brodsky Goldstein, 63, a lifelong tennis enthusiast who attended the Open on Thursday, the day after the win of Williams on 26-year-old Anett. Kontaveit.
Goldstein pursues her passion for sports harder than most women her age. He plays several times a week and participates in a USTA 55-and-over mixed doubles league in New England. (He also plays competitive golf.)
However, Goldstein, like any athlete, has her share of aches and pains, including a recent knee problem that set her back a few weeks. Seeing Williams, she said, shows ordinary people that injuries — or, in Williams’ case, a life-threatening childbirth experience five years ago — can be overcome. “She gives you inspiration that you can achieve your best, even in your early 60s,” said Goldstein, who also praised Venus Williams, Serena’s older sister, who competed this year at 42.
Evelyn David was also watching tennis at the Open on Thursday, and she too was thinking about the night before.
“Everybody says ‘WHOA!'” said David, who smilingly said her age was “older than my 60s” and is the site director of New York Junior Tennis Learning, which works with children and teenagers. He cited Williams’ physique. ‘, and the role of fitness in today’s tennis. “The rigorous training that athletes go through now is different,” David said. “She’s like, ‘I’m not falling. I can get to the ball.'”
“A total inspiration,” David called Williams’ performance, and she had outstanding company.
“Can I put something into perspective here?” Former champion and ESPN commentator Chris Evert said during Wednesday’s broadcast. “This is a 40-year-old mother. I’m surprised.”
Evert retired at age 34 in 1989, long before fitness and nutrition were the prominent factors in tennis that they are now. There were even fewer when pioneering player Billie Jean King, now 78, was in her prime.
“For the older guys, it gives us hope and it’s fun,” King said Thursday in an interview about Williams. “It puts a weight in your step. It gives you energy.” He noted how fitness on tour has 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 tournament now, they say, ‘Thanks to my team.’ They’re very lucky to have all these people. We didn’t even have a coach.”
Jessica Pegula, the No. 8 seed who won Thursday, is 28, a half-century younger than King. She knows well the difference fitness has made.
“He’s been a big part of it,” he said. “Athletes, how they take care of their bodies, sports nutrition, the science behind training and nutrition has changed a lot. Back in the day, I’d see a player drinking a Coke on the sidelines or having a beer afterwards of the match. Now … health has been the No. 1 priority, whether it’s physical or mental.” He said he 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 an operation on his right knee, but has said he will try to play at Wimbledon next year, just before his 42nd birthday. And Nadal, 36, known for his intense devotion to fitness, has won two Grand Slam titles this year to take his tally to a men’s record 22. No one would be surprised if he won another major. In contrast, Jimmy Connors’ famous run to the semifinals of the 1991 US Open when he was 39 was considered an event for the history books.
Of course, fitness is just one building block for greatness, in any sport. Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons, who like Pegula is 28, noted that while it’s inspiring to see Williams maintain an athletic edge in part through preparation, “not everyone is Serena and Venus Williams. Maybe there’s some genes in there that not everyone is lucky enough to have, but it’s still cool to know that, hey, even though she’s genetically gifted, there are some things she’s done that have helped her in a tremendous way to prolong her life. career.”
Dr. Michael J. Joyner, who studies human performance at the Mayo Clinic, said Williams shares many traits with other superstar athletes (from baseball’s Ted Williams to golfer Gary Player and star quarterback Tom Brady, 45 and famous not retired) that they have enjoyed. long runs
“What you see with all these people is that they stay motivated, they’ve avoided catastrophic injury … or they’ve been able to come back because they’ve recovered,” he said. Also key: They live in “the modern era of sports medicine.”
The question, he asked, is can Williams perform at the same level every other day to win an entire tournament? He expects it.
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’s seeing many women playing vigorous, competitive sports well into middle age and beyond. beyond Some return to their sport, or take up a new one, after years of focusing on work or family.
Williams’ pursuit of another US Open title at age 40 is a reminder that women can not only stay competitive longer, but compete now for the joy of it, she notes.
“She really enjoys playing,” Martin, 59, said. “That’s what’s fun about watching it now.”
Brooklyn teacher Mwezi Pugh says both Williams sisters are great examples of living life on their own terms, which includes deciding how long they want to play.
“They’re still following their own playbook,” Pugh, 51, said. “‘Are you ready to retire, Serena?’ “I don’t like that word. I’d rather say evolution.” “Are you ready to retire, Venus? ‘Not today.'”
“The older you get, the more you should be able to shape your life the way you like and what works best for you,” Pugh said. “This is what the sisters are doing and they are teaching us all a lesson.”
Associated Press writers Maryclaire Dale, Howard Fendrich and Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report.
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