Serena Williams’ US Open run inspires people of all ages

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

That was Serena Williams’ succinct, smiling explanation of how, at almost 41 and rusty, she had managed to defeat the second-ranked player in the world and advance to Wednesday’s final third round of a US Open this doesn’t feel like a goodbye yet. “I’m just Serena” she said to roaring fans.

Obviously there is only one Serena. But as superhuman as many found her performance, some older fans — middle-aged or older — said they also saw a very human and relatable takeaway in Williams’ final run. Namely, the idea that they too could perform better and longer than they once thought possible – through fitness, practice and courage.

“It makes me feel good about what I’m doing at my age,” said Bess Brodsky Goldstein, 63, a lifelong tennis enthusiast who attended the Open on Thursday, the day after William’s triumph over 26-year-old Anett, according to Kontaveit .

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

But like any athlete, Goldstein suffers from aches and pains, such as a recent knee problem that set her back a few weeks. Seeing Williams, she said, shows ordinary people that injury — or, in Williams’ case, a life-threatening birth experience five years ago — can be overcome. “She gives you the inspiration that even in your early 60s you can do your best,” said Goldstein, who also praised Venus Williams, Serena’s older sister, who competes this year at 42.

Evelyn David also watched tennis the opening on Thursday. And she too thought about the night before.

“Everyone’s like ‘WHOA!'” said David, who smiled when she gave her age as “older than my 60” and is the site director for New York Junior Tennis Learning, which works with children and youth. 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,” said David. “She says, ‘I’m not falling down. I can come to the ball.’”

“A total inspiration,” said David Williams’ performance – and she had celebrity company.

“Can I put something into perspective here?” said former champion and ESPN commentator Chris Evert during Wednesday’s broadcast. “This is a 40-year-old mother. It blows my mind.”

Evert retired in 1989 at the age of 34, well before fitness and nutrition were the standout factors in tennis 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 of Williams in an interview Thursday. “Put momentum in your step. Gives you energy.” She noted how fitness on the tour had changed since the 1960s and 1970s.

“We didn’t have the information or the money,” King said. “Today when people win a tournament, they say, ‘Thank you to my team.’ You are so lucky to have all these people. We didn’t even have a coach.”

Jessica Pegula, the No. 8 winner on Thursday, is half a century younger than King at 28. She knows exactly what a difference fitness has made.

“It was a big part of that,” she said. “Athletes, how they take care of their bodies, sports nutrition, the science behind training and nutrition — (it) has changed so much. A player used to be seen sipping a coke on the sidelines or sipping a beer after the game. Now … health is the top priority, whether physical or mental.” She said she remembered thinking that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Williams would all be retiring, but “they keep pushing the boundaries postponed”.

Federer, 41, has not played since Wimbledon last year due to surgery on his right knee but has said he will try to play Wimbledon next year, just before his 42nd birthday. And Nadal, 36, known for his intense devotion to fitness, has won two Grand Slam titles this year to bring his total to a men’s record 22. No one would be surprised if he won another Major. In contrast, Jimmy Connors’ famous run to the semifinals of the 1991 US Open at the age of 39 was considered an event for the history books.

A longtime women’s fitness pioneer was Martina Navratilova, who won her last Grand Slam title, the 2006 US Open mixed doubles, at the age of 49.

Of course, fitness is only one building block to greatness – in any sport. Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons, who is 28 like Pegula, noted that while it’s inspiring to see Williams retain a sporting advantage in part through preparation, “not everyone is Serena and Venus Williams. Maybe there are some genes in there that not everyone else is blessed enough with, but it’s still cool to know that while she’s genetically gifted, she’s done some things that have helped her in tremendous ways to extend her career .”

dr Michael J. Joyner, who studies human performance at the Mayo Clinic, said Williams shares many traits with other superstar athletes, including star quarterback Tom Brady (45 and known not to be retired ) who have had a long career.

“What you see with all of these people is that they stay motivated, they avoided catastrophic injury … or they were able to come back because they recovered,” he said. Also important: You live in “the modern era of sports medicine”.

The question he asked is, 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 owns a chain of clinics in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said she sees many women engaging in vigorous competitive sports into middle age and beyond. Some are returning to their sport or starting a new one after years of focusing on work or family.

Williams’ quest for another US Open title at 40 is a reminder that not only can women stay competitive longer, but now they can participate for the joy of it, she notes.

“She really likes to play,” said Martin, 59. “Now it’s fun to watch her do it.”

Brooklyn teacher Mwezi Pugh says both Williams sisters are great examples of how they can live their lives on their own terms — which includes deciding how long they want to play.

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

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


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


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