The pressure’s all in your head, right?

Just like other athletes, professional tennis players contend with performance pressures and emotional swings. André Agassi related his on- and off-court struggles in his 2009 book, Open. Commentators highlighted emotional pressure as an possible issue in Serena Williams’ crushing loss to Roberta Vinci. Although she never admitted to sensing the pressure, Serena had encountered heavy media and fan attention as she attempted to complete the calendar year Grand Slam.

Another American player, Mardy Fish, went on the record to discuss how psychological pressure led to panic attacks and physical problems that sidelined him for nearly three years. In his last singles match prior to retirement at the  2015 US Open, Fish showed signs of mental and physical greatness coupled with indications of emotional wear. He ultimately lost the match in five long sets.

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Emotional pressure affects rec players, too

Fish’s willingness to talk about his issues increased dialogue about mental health concerns in the world of pro tennis. And even though rec tennis players don’t earn their livelihoods from the sport, we still have to handle the pressure of competitive situations.

In fact for women such as myself, the scoring and ranking aspects of tennis make it particularly hard to view the sport as merely a recreational activity I do for fun and exercise, not a place where I compare my performance to other people’s.

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We decide how to view our pressure

Anxiety over becoming an empty-nester and worries about what I would do after full-time motherhood ended contributed to a general lack of focus and low self-confidence that carried over into my tennis matches. Even though I was playing tennis “for fun,” it actually wasn’t all that fun, and I wasn’t sure how to make things better.

Last year, however, I experienced a defining moment — in other words, a moment of pain + an opportunity to grow.

Pain

After organizing a group of players to do clinics, practice and play doubles matches together, I heard from others in my group that they preferred not to partner with me. While I might have taken this information at face value, instead I interpreted it as a rejection of me and my on-court performance. I thought they were choosing to emphasize win/loss record over friendship, and it made me feel terrible.

As a tennis player who wants to improve, I understood my friends’ desire to move up in the ratings, and their fear that partnering with me might prohibit them from doing so. But their rejection still hurt. It hurt a lot. Some days I’d barely get to my car after seeing them on the court before I’d start crying.

Looking at the situation now, I don’t believe my friends had intended to make me feel bad, only to tell me the truth — that they liked me, but preferred not to partner with me. At the time, however, I let myself slip further into negativity, with the result that I lost every USTA match I played that season.

Opportunity to Grow

It had been my choice to allow the emotional pressure of a situation where friends wouldn’t partner with me to drain my self-confidence. Alternatively, I might have interpreted it as a sad commentary on the strength of our friendship, but not as a rejection of me per se.

Given the fact that I felt weak in other parts of my life, choosing the second interpretation would have been hard for me back then. Even so, I tried to hide my vulnerability. I failed to reach out to my friends and let them know how much their rejection had hurt me.

Sometimes we cover up weaknesses to appear strong on the outside — when really, by admitting our weakness, we could become stronger on the inside.

I tried to conceal my pain, but at the same time hoped that one of my friends would notice something was wrong and show me she cared. That didn’t happen. The growth came when I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, stopped waiting for others to help me, and took charge of my own reactions.

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“Pressure is a privilege”

Billie Jean King, perhaps the greatest female player in the history of tennis, is famous for saying, “Pressure is a privilege.” That phrase, in fact, is the title of her memoir. Her 1973 match v. Bobby Riggs, nicknamed “The Battle of the Sexes,” became a metaphor for women’s equality struggles through that decade and beyond. She has also discussed pressure faced in her decision to have an abortion, as well as the press conference she chose to hold after being “outed” in 1981.

Recreational athletes can take learnings from the court, course or field and apply them to other parts of our lives. As sports marketer David McLean puts it, we can excel under pressure by changing the way we think about it:

Regardless of who we are and what we do, let’s shift our perspective on pressure from being something from which we want to be freed, to a gift enabling us to be better.

Replace self-pressure with self-compassion

As good as the concept of embracing “pressure as a privilege” sounds, I find it hard to do. What works better for me is looking at the source of the pressure I’m feeling, and deciding what, if anything, I can do about it.

On the tennis court and in life generally, I find the worst pressure I experience is pressure I put on myself. I push myself to do better all the time, whether it be to win more tennis matches, write more “usable” prose (whatever that means!), or load the dishwasher more efficiently.

But I’m learning to identify my triggers for self-imposed pressure and offer up self-compassion instead. To replace the voice of judgment in my head that tells me, “I should have finished this project by now, I’m an incompetent writer,” with “It’s a bummer I haven’t finished this project yet, but I’m going to keep trying.”

A subtle shift perhaps, but one that in time, will help me put pressure in its proper place.

 

Image credits: WSOC TV, NoFault Sports,Canberra Times,

US Open tennis fashion: the women

Almost as much fun as watching the matches is checking out the US Open tennis fashion. This year continues a trend towards variety of colors — not only in women’s clothes, but also in their shoes. Here are some ladies tennis fashions I’ve noticed so far during the tournament.

Sharapova tennis fashion: Day and Night

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Maria by day

Tennis diva Maria Sharapova is looking glam as usual. Nike has furnished her with a daytime tunic as well as an evening dress.

 

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Maria by night

 

Serena tennis fashion: the Big Cat

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Serena by Night: the Snow Leopard

Serena always stands out: not only for her dominant play, but also for her short skirts that emphasize the size and strength of her quads, hamstrings and glutes. This year she’s wearing an animal print dress. For her first round (evening) match, her dress was a more “formal” black and white — a snow leopard pattern. But then for her day match vs. Vania King, she sported the same print in pink and red.

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Serena by day: spotted pink panther?

Tennis fashion in blue, who knew?

Blue is a popular color this year. Azarenka looks cute in her blue and white tennis shorts and matching top. The young Canadian phenom Eugenie Bouchard shows athleticism and elegance in her slim-fitting blue dress.

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Vika shows her flexibility (and contrasting soles)

 

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Genie Bouchard stretches for a ball

Jelena Jankovic is also wearing blue, but she combines it with purple hexagonal spots.  Sponsored by Fila, Jankovic wears a simply styled dress that attracts attention with its bold print.

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Fila’s blue and purple print for Jankovic

In yet another take on the traditional blue color, Venus Williams is wearing one of her own EleVen designs, in a lady-like white and blue floral with a square opening across the shoulder blades. In her after-match interview, she indicated that this design includes some red — to make it red, white and blue for the US Open. Maybe she’ll add something red for the next round!

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Venus wins her second round match

Tennis fashion new color: blush

An often-seen color in early round women’s matches has been blush, or light peach. While blue, black and white are tennis fashion staples, this blush color is fresh and different. One Adidas top in particular has been worn by several players. Who wore it better, in your opinion: Andrea Petkovic, Kimiko Date-Krumm or Maria Kirilenko?

Caroline Wozniacki gets her own version of the Adidas blush. It has a contrasting panel down the front with a kind of flap that comes in two colors, berry and beige. Personally I’m not sure how this “flap” would work on many women’s figures. But on Caroline, of course it looks terrific.

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Caroline Wozniacki – US Open First Round

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Caroline Wozniacki – US Open Second Round

 

The next post will highlight men’s fashions from the US Open Tennis Tournament. Stay tuned!

 

Image credits: various photographers via usopen.org, zimbio.com

Maria and Serena and the 2012 US Open: day/night costume changes

Some of the male players are varying their shirt colors at the Open, but generally they keep to the same overall color scheme — this year, it’s mostly a red, white and blue one. But Nike has upped the glamour quotient with its top female tennis celebrities by giving them dark dresses to wear for evening matches. All this costume-changing is making the fashion experience of the US Open feel more like a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie.

Maria Sharapova

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Maria’s dress for daytime matches is a demure pink, with brown criss-cross stripes that form a diamond under the bust. Its clean lines and sleek shape emphasize her cover girl proportions. While the pink is pretty, in my opinion it’s far too dainty for Maria’s incessant grunting and ruthless style of play.

 

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The nighttime dress offers sheer sex appeal. Sewn from a shimmering fabric that’s not quite black, not quite brown (Nike calls it “Anthracite”), it drapes slinkily over Maria’s body. The back yoke is cut in to expose the shoulders, with gold thread detail that traces a Spiderman-type of motif. What does Spidey have to do with tennis? The dress is gorgeous, but really: the sexy fabric and gold Spiderman decoration? All she needs now is some Swarovski crystals embedded in the bodice.   [Read more…]

Olympics bring color to Wimbledon: Part I, the ladies

It’s fun to see colorful tennis wear at the staunch All England Lawn Tennis Club. Perhaps not as zany as beach volleyball in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, but a break with tradition all the same. This post will come in two parts. Today I’ll talk about some of the notable women players and what they’re wearing.

Note that all these photos are from Zimbio.com, a great source for pictures and news about lots of celebrities, not just tennis players.

Tennis Fashionistas

 

I like the red, white and blue outfit Nike put together for Serena — a dress works well for her powerful frame. Her sister designed a nice tennis dress for her own EleVen line as well. Check out her matches on TV to see the straps criss-crossing the back of Venus’ outfit. She wins the award for coolest hair accessory!

Maria Sharapova looks good, as usual. It was great to see her carrying the flag at the head of Russia’s procession, even if she has lived in the United States since 1994. Her white skirt and red top, part of Nike’s Maria Sharapova Statement Set, are styles we’ve seen before, just in different colors.

 

 

Caroline Wozniacki sports a cute red dress. It’s longer than her dresses usually are and doesn’t have as much of a “fashion forward” look as her Stella McCartney for Adidas designs usually do — maybe the Danish tennis authorities had to approve her outfit? But check out her nails, mini-flags from her country.

 

Fortunately Victoria Azarenka gets to look at the fuzzy yellow ball when she plays, not at her color combination. It’s not her fault that the colors of Belarus are green and red. Still, watching her on the court reminds me to make this the year I get an early start on my Christmas shopping.

 

Playing in what will likely be her last Olympics, Kim Clijsters looks classically terrific in her red skirt with subtle yellow stripe and white polo embellished with Belgium’s colors. I hope she goes deep in the tournament.

Thank goodness the matches are being broadcast on Bravo as well as streamed live.  There are so many sports on at once, it’s hard to stay on top of what’s happening with your favorite players — and that’s from the perspective of a spectator! Enjoy the tennis, the fashion and as always, the inevitable drama.

Oh, and be sure to send in your opinion on these outfits, or let me know if you see someone else you want to discuss!