Fighting at 40: Older fans rejoicing over Serena’s success

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NEW YORK (AP) — Imagine if they could bottle a potion called “Just Serena.”

That was Serena Williams’ succinct, smiley explanation of how she managed — at nearly 41, and rusty — to defeat the world’s second-ranked player and advance to the US Open third round on Wednesday. . that so far doesn’t sound much like a goodbye. “I’m just Serena” she said, to the roaring fans.

Obviously, there is only one Serena. But as superhuman as many found his achievement, some older fans in particular – middle-aged or beyond – said they saw Williams’ last run as a very human and relatable takeaway as well. Namely the idea that they, too, could perform better and for longer than they ever thought possible – through physical fitness, practice and courage.

“It makes me feel good about what I’m still doing at my age,” said Bess Brodsky Goldstein, 63, a lifelong tennis fan who attended the Open on Thursday, the day after Williams’ triumph over Anett, 26 years. Kontaveit.

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

Still, Goldstein, like any athlete, is dealing with pain and injury on her own, such as a recent knee issue that set her back a few weeks. Watching 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 the inspiration to do your best, even in your early 60s,” said Goldstein, who also praised Venus Williams, Serena’s older sister, competing this year at 42 years old.

Evelyn David was also watching tennis at the Open on ThursdayAnd she too was thinking about the night before.

“Everyone says, ‘WHOA!’,” said David, who smilingly gave his age as “older than my 60s” and is the site manager of New York Junior Tennis Learning, which works with children. and teenagers. She cited the physicality of Williams’ game and the role of fitness in tennis today. “The rigorous training that athletes go through now is different,” David said. “She goes, ‘I’m not falling. I can go to prom.

“Total inspiration,” David called Williams’ performance – and she had top notch company.

“Can I put something in perspective here?” former champion and ESPN commentator Chris Evert said on Wednesday’s show. “She’s a 40-year-old mum. That blows my mind.”

Evert retired at age 34 in 1989, long before fitness and nutrition were the big factors in tennis that they are now. They were even less so when pioneering player Billie Jean King, now 78, was in her prime.

“For us older folks, it gives us hope and it’s fun,” King said Thursday in an interview about Williams. “Puts some pep in your step. Gives you energy. She noted how the physical form of touring had 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 are so lucky to have all these people, we didn’t even have a coach.

Jessica Pegula, the No. 8 seed who won Thursday, is 28, half a century younger than King. She knows well the difference fitness has made.

“That’s been a big part of it,” she said. “Athletes, the way they take care of their bodies, sports nutrition, the science behind training and nutrition – (it) has changed so much. or have a beer after her game. Now… health has been the No. 1 priority, whether physical or mental. She said she remembers thinking that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Williams were all going to take their retirement, but “they kept pushing the boundaries”.

Federer, 41, hasn’t played since Wimbledon last year due to right knee surgery but said he will try to play Wimbledon next year shortly before his 42nd birthday. And Nadal, 36, known for his intense dedication to fitness, 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. By contrast, Jimmy Connors’ famous run to the 1991 US Open semi-finals when he was 39 was considered an event for the history books.

Of course, physical fitness is only one building block of 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 are some genes in there that not everyone is lucky enough to have, but it’s still cool to know that, even though she’s genetically gifted, there are things she has done that have helped her in a tremendous way to prolong her career.”

Dr. Michael J. Joyner, who studies human performance at the Mayo Clinic, said Williams shares many traits with other superstar athletes (from baseball Ted Williams to golfer Gary Player and star quarterback Tom Brady, 45 years old and famous not retired ) who have enjoyed long careers.

“What you see with all of 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. . Another key element: they live in “the modern era of sports medicine”.

The question, he posed, can Williams play at the same level every other day to win an entire tournament? He hopes so.

Williams fan Jamie Martin, who has worked in physical therapy since 1985 and has a chain of clinics in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said she saw many women playing vigorous, competitive sports well into middle age. and beyond. Some return to their sport, or adopt a new one, after years of focusing on work or family.

Williams’ pursuit of another US Open title at 40 is a reminder that women can not only stay competitive longer, but can compete now for fun, she notes.

“She really likes to play,” said Martin, 59. “That’s what’s fun to watch now.”

Brooklyn teacher Mwezi Pugh says the two Williams sisters are great examples of living their own way – which includes deciding how long they want to play.

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

“The older you are, the more you should be able to organize your life the way you want and what works best for you,” Pugh said. “That’s what the sisters do, and they teach us all a lesson.”

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Associated Press writers Maryclaire Dale, Howard Fendrich and Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report.

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More AP coverage of US Open tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/us-open-tennis-championships and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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