Tennis Lessons (For All) at the US Open

The US Open, last of the tennis Grand Slam events of the year, always marks my summer’s end and provides an opportunity to connect with tennis-playing and loving friends and family. Texting commentaries with my college roommate take us timelessly back to our old dorm as we watch this same tournament together from afar. While this year’s tournament had its dazzling array of one-handed backhands and deft drop shots, what will stay with me are the lessons for wise living captured by the athletes. Here are but a few. Mardy Fish: Asking for help is smart, not a sign of weakness. Mental illness hurts and debilitates like physical illness or injury. In peak physical shape a few years ago, Fish was struck on court by a panic attack. He couldn’t play the next round. Uncontrollable anxiety kept him house-bound. He lost his life as he knew it. But he came back to play in this US Open, to retire on his own terms from the sport he loves. What courage to tell his story for all to hear—how many lives received a jolt of hope from his last stand? Here’s what Fish has to say—I’d say he won his tournament, and educated us all:

Mardy Fish after his last match.

Venus and Serena Williams: Where there’s a will, there are many ways. Adversity can be leapt over. Two little girls from Compton hit countless tennis balls with their dad as their mom coaches and encourages. From the public courts of East LA to the winners’ circles of every Grand Slam, they defeat injuries, illnesses, and personal loss—and dominate women’s tennis for almost 20 years. Two loving sisters, two champions, and Serena the Conqueror displaying an indomitable will that keeps her at the top of the game. An astonishing, unmatched sibling success story.

Roberta Vinci: Spontaneity, humor, and passion are winning attributes. Humility is cool. An unseeded veteran player known for her doubles play, Vinci defeated Serena and ended Williams’s so close chance at the Grand Slam, winning all 4 majors in one calendar year. A 300-1 underdog, Vinci’s play was intuitive, versatile, and joyful. Her interview with Tom Rinaldi, in front of a disappointed and hushed crowd at the end of the match, ended with boisterous cheers of appreciation and laughter all round. I may watch it every day for awhile! Here you go:

Flavia Pennetta: “You gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.” Know when to retire. Be open to possibility. Gratitude touches hearts. Pennetta, 33, was playing in her 49th grand slam event, with the odds of her winning at the tournament’s start: 150-1. But win it she did, defeating her childhood pal and good friend Vinci in the finals. Accepting the trophy with grace and endearing surprise, Pennetta then announced that she decided a month ago that this would be her last US Open. Having fought back from many injuries, she’s done. She never dreamed she’d win this tournament, but her dedication won her the big prize, the oldest player to win a first-time major. Brava, Flavia!

Roger Federer: Tennis is a beautiful game. Play it. Enjoy it. Classy world champ for so long, Federer’s love for the game is contagious. He learned to play hitting balls against “cupboards and garage doors,” and upon losing in the finals his last words to the crowd were: “I’ll see you next year.” Tennis is accessible—public courts abound, the United States Tennis Association has programs in almost all communities, Parks and Recreation Departments offer lessons and quite often equipment. And the equipment isn’t expensive—any old racquet will do, any old ball. Where there’s a wall, there’s a way!

Serena and Venus, pals and champs.