40-year struggle: Older fans mourn Serena’s victory

Serena Williams, 40, defeated the world’s second-ranked player to reach the third round of the US Open, inspiring many older tennis fans.

Serena Williams, 40, defeated the world’s second-ranked player to reach the third round of the US Open, inspiring many older tennis fans.

Imagine if they could bottle a drink called “Just Serena”.

Serena Williams briefly, with a smile – almost 41, and match-rusty – to defeat the world number two and Reached the third round of the US Open on Wednesday So far, it hasn’t felt like goodbye.

“I’m just Serena,” she said to the roaring fans.

There is only one Serena. But many found her success superhuman, especially as some older fans — middle-aged or beyond — said they also saw a very human and relatable takeaway in Williams’ latest run. The idea is that they too can perform better and longer than once thought – through fitness, practice and grit.

“It makes me feel good about what else I’m doing at my age,” said lifelong tennis enthusiast Bess Brodsky Goldstein, 63, who attended the Open Thursday, the day after Williams’ victory over the 26-year-old Annette.

Goldstein pursues her passion for the sport more intensely than most women her age. She plays several times a week and competes in the USTA 55-and-over mixed-doubles league in New England. (She also plays competitive golf.)

Yet Goldstein, like any athlete, has been plagued by aches and pains, including a recent knee problem that set her back for a few weeks. Seeing Williams, she said, trauma — or, in Williams’ case, a life-threatening childbirth experience five years ago — can be overcome.

“She inspires you to be the best you can be even in your early 60s,” said Goldstein, who was praised for competing against Serena’s older sister, Venus Williams, who turned 42 this year.

Evelyn David is also watching tennis at the Open on Thursday, and she too is thinking about the night before.

“Everybody’s going, ‘WHOA!'” says David, who laughs and reveals his age as “older than my 60s” and is the site director of New York’s Junior Tennis Learning, which works with children and teenagers. She cited the physicality of Williams’ game and the role of fitness in today’s tennis. “The rigorous training that athletes go through now is different,” David said.

“She’s going, ‘I’m not going to fall. I can catch the ball.’

“Absolute inspiration,” David Williams called the performance — and she had some illustrious 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. It blows me away. “

Evert retired in 1989 at the age of 34, fitness and nutrition are now prominent factors in tennis. They were few and far between when pioneering player Billie Jean King, now 78, was in her prime.

“For us adults, it gives us hope and it’s fun,” King said Thursday in an interview about Williams. “Puts a pep in your step. Gives you energy. ” She notes how fitness has changed on tour since the 1960s and 1970s.

“We don’t have the information and we don’t have the money,” King said. “When people win a tournament now, they say ‘thanks to my team’. They are all lucky. We don’t even have a coach.

Thursday’s winning no. 28-year-old Jessica Pegula is half a century short of King, the 8th seed. She knows the difference fitness makes.

“It’s a huge part,” she said. “Athletes, how they take care of their bodies, sports nutrition, the science behind training and nutrition — (it) has changed a lot. In the past, you would have seen a player drinking a coke on the sidelines or drinking a beer after their match. Health is the No. 1 priority now, both physically and mentally.”

She said she thought Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Williams were all going to retire, but “they keep pushing the envelope.”

Federer, 41, has not played since last year’s Wimbledon due to operations on his right knee, but said shortly before his 42nd birthday that he would try to play next year’s Wimbledon. And Nadal, 36, known for his intense devotion to fitness, has won two Grand Slam titles this year to take his men’s record to 22. No one would be surprised if he wins another major. In contrast, Jimmy Connors’ famous 1991 semis of the US Open at the age of 39 is considered an event in the history books.

Of course, fitness is only one building block to greatness – in any sport. Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons, a 28-year-old who likes Pegula, says that while Williams is inspired to gain an athletic advantage in part through preparation, “not everyone is Serena and Venus Williams. Maybe there’s some genetics, a blessing that not everyone has, but it’s still nice to know, hey, even though she’s genetically gifted, some of the things she’s done have helped her extend her career tremendously.”

Dr. Michael J. Joyner, who studies human performance at the Mayo Clinic, says Williams shares many traits with other superstar athletes (from baseball’s Ted Williams to golfer Gary Player and star quarterback Tom Brady, 45 and famously retired). Long careers.

“What you see with all these people is that they’re motivated, they’ve avoided a catastrophic injury … or they’ve been able to come back because they’ve recovered,” he said. More importantly: they live in the “modern age of sports medicine.”

He asked if Williams could perform at the same level every day to win the entire tournament. He hopes.

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 sees more women in middle age and beyond playing vigorous, competitive sports. Some return to their sport or take up a new one after a few years of focusing on work or family.

Williams’ pursuit of another US Open title at age 40 is a reminder that women can now compete for the joy of it, not just for longer, she said.

“She really enjoys playing,” said Martin, 59. “Now that’s fun to watch.”

Brooklyn teacher Mwezi Pugh says both Williams sisters are great examples of living life on their own terms — including deciding how long they want to play.

“They’re still following their own playbook,” Pugh, 51, said. “‘Are you ready to retire yet, Serena?’ ‘I don’t like that word. I want to say evolution.’ ‘Are you ready to retire Venus?’ ‘Not today.'”

“The older you get, the more you can set up your life the way you like and what works best for you,” Pugh says. “That’s what the sisters are doing, and they’re teaching us all a lesson.”

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