US Open: Why is it so difficult to win a second Grand Slam?

It was a familiar scene, repeated over the years by first-time Grand Slam winners; Daniil Medvedev also fell to the ground when he won his first Grand Slam a day after Raducanu, as did Dominic Thiem a year earlier.

But after that euphoric moment, there often seems to be a gap before that peak can be reached again – 34 of the 45 first-time Grand Slam winners since 2000 have had to wait at least a year for another if they won a second title at all .

Williams herself had to wait two and a half years to win her second Grand Slam.

“Depth of Confidence Like Nothing Else”

Along with Williams, tennis has been dominated for the past 20 years by players who find it harder to lose than win – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Winning significantly more than one Grand Slam has become normal, even expected, somewhat obscuring the difficulties of claiming that first.

Emma Raducanu, then 18, won the 2021 US Open without dropping a set.

In tennis, a solitary individual sport that requires constant travel across different time zones and environments 10 months a year, the psychological pressure of winning a Grand Slam is unlike any other sport.

“Often when there’s social support, I look to the left, I look to the right, I see my teammate giving me a fist pump… That kind of social support can do a lot for an individual to cope with stage fright,” explains sports psychologist Dr .Jarrod Spencer CNN sports.

“But [when] it’s just one on one, you look left and right and realize you’re alone. It requires a deep level of self-confidence that is second to none.”

And with a unique scoring system that poses dangers at almost every point, much of the game of tennis is “actually in your head,” as Eurosport pundit and former world No. 7 Barbara Schett tells CNN.

Winning seems to create a virtuous circle that deepens confidence, which in turn boosts the confidence to be used at crucial points in tight games.

“When I was in the top 10,” says Schett, “I was at that stage where I went out on the court and I was like, ‘I’m not going to lose this match. There’s absolutely no chance.’ I can only imagine how… the legends of our game would feel walking onto the pitch.

Schett played Williams three times in her career and never defeated her. They last met at the French Open in 2003 and Schett lost 6-0, 6-0.

Barbara Schett played Serena Williams in the third round of the French Open.

“I lost the match before I played them because their presence on the pitch was just amazing,” Schett recalls.

“I was just like, ‘How am I going to beat this girl? She’s so much better physically. She plays so much harder. She believes in herself. And I’d better just go to the dressing room.'”

But winning can create a sense of fallibility and invincibility, creating new expectations and goals to be reckoned with.

“Perfection doesn’t exist”

After Raducanu’s triumph at the US Open, pundits hailed her as a future multiple Grand Slam champion for her powerful groundstrokes and consistently aggressive serve return.

She garnered sponsor after sponsor, and PR pundits branded her with the potential to become one Britain’s first billionaire sports star.
“Everyone just expected me to win every single tournament I would ever play again. It’s a bit unrealistic because perfection just doesn’t exist,” Raducanu said a recent interview with Nike.

A series of injuries have marred Raducanu’s first full year on tour with blisters, back problems, side strains and hip injuries that have forced her to withdraw from various tournaments throughout the season.

Emma Raducanu played and defeated Serena Williams in Cincinnati two weeks ago.

In her three Grand Slam appearances since that magical two weeks in New York, Raducanu has only reached the second round, falling to players ranked lower than her each time.

“A lot is expected of her from the outside,” says Schett. “Of course she wants to win another one. She wants to prove to everyone that she wasn’t a one-day miracle or a two-week miracle and that she can do more, but the pressure and expectations are extremely high in her case. “

For a 19-year-old competing in her first year on the WTA Tour, it’s been a solid if unremarkable season, but the stratospheric expectations surrounding the Brit have reframed every defeat as something akin to catastrophic failure.

“That Point of Saturation”

Goals and expectations change after a big win like a Grand Slam title.

Dominic Thiem has undergone a similar evolution to Raducanu since his maiden Grand Slam win at the 2020 US Open, crashing from the upper echelons of the game to as low a rank as world No. 352.

A persistent wrist injury hampered the Austrian, as did grappling with his new status as a Grand Slam winner.

“If you fight for a goal, you leave everything behind and you achieve it, everything changes,” Thiem told the Austrian newspaper The standard in April 2021.

“But in tennis everything happens very quickly, you don’t have time to celebrate victory and if you’re not 100% you lose. It happened to me this year.”

Dominic Thiem celebrates winning the US Open 2020 final against Alexander Zverev.

To explain the psychological effects of achieving a great goal, Spencer compares it to a more everyday experience – eating.

“When you’re hungry, you’ll do anything to get something to eat,” he says. “And then when you get to that saturation point where you just feel full, it’s like I can’t eat another bite, I don’t want anything for a while.”

“And so it’s very normal and natural, just like a big meal, sometimes after an athlete wins something really significant, they lose a little bit of momentum for a while.”

The emotional cost of elite sport becomes more apparent each year as athletes begin to speak openly about mental health and what it means.

Four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka attended the French Open last year retired to protect her sanity after refusing to hold press conferences after the game, a furore broke out.
After that she uncovered that she had suffered “long depressions” and “huge waves of anxiety” since her first Grand Slam triumph in 2018.

Iga Swiatek, meanwhile, praised her sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz for the role she played in helping her win the French Open in 2020.

“Many, many things have happened”

Managing the “emotional energy” that sport drains is key to recalibrating an athlete’s goals and expectations, Spencer explains.

Thiem has started to rebuild after his year in the wild, winning his first ATP Tour match in 14 months with a first-round win at the Bastad Open over Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori in July 2022.

“My last win was in Rome in 2021, it kind of feels like another world,” he said afterwards. according to the BBC.

“Many, many things happened. It was tough, but I think it was also a very good experience for life in general. I’m so happy to have gotten this first win here today.”

Dominic Thiem reached the quarterfinals of the Austrian Open in July this year.

In recent weeks, Raducanu has also shown glimmers of the form that has made her a tennis star with wins over Williams and Victoria Azarenka at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati before losing to Jessica Pegula in the third round in only her second match ever against a top 10 player.

She will face Alizé Cornet in the first round of the US Open as she begins her title defense, while Thiem – also making his first appearance since winning the tournament – will take on Pablo Carreño Busta.

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