David, Goliath, and Lessons from the US Open
Last Friday as I settled in to watch the semi-final round of the US Open tennis championship, I had no idea that my annual tennis-watching fest would garner valuable life lessons that I will remember for a long, long time.
The scene had already been set and predictions made for top-seeded Serena Williams to crush the competition and take home the grand prize. She was by far the favorite and was expected to pummel her way into tennis history.
Like most tennis fans I was avidly following Serena’s bid to complete her calendar Grand Slam (win all of the four Grand Slam events within a calendar year). If she did, she would become only the fourth woman to accomplish such a feat. Of course as the top ranked women’s player it was almost a foregone conclusion that she would. She had already won the 2015 Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, needing only the win at the US Open to seal her victory.
“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”
― Malcolm Gladwell
Was there anyone else in the field who could match the power, athleticism and speed of this amazing player? Highly unlikely. But if there was, surely it would have to be one of the young energetic upstarts… or perhaps one of the other top seeded players? It was so improbable that anyone could beat her that the seats for the women’s final match on Saturday were being sold for top dollar in anticipation of Serena’s win.
And then steps onto the court Roberta Vinci, an Italian player in her thirties, who had never made it to a grand slam singles final in her entire career. Not much of a threat. We’re talking number 1 seed versus number 43. Were talking 21 Grand Slam titles versus 0. We’re talking 300 to 1 odds. We’re talking David versus Goliath!
So imagine my surprise (and everyone else’s) when Serena Williams was taken down, much like Goliath, by none other than, you guessed it, Roberta Vinci. That’s right, 43rd seed, no Grand Slam title, 300 to 1 Roberta Vinci. This feisty player finally had her day in the sun, and she exuded elation like a kid on the last day of school. Her joy was so infectious in her post-match interview that she instantly won over the pro-Serena crowd.
The next day she played her fellow countrywoman, Flavia Pennetta, in front of a packed house with the Prime Minister of Italy in attendance, and everyone cheered them on like they were the local favorites. Does it get any better than this? Although I was disappointed that Serena was not going to get her history-making calendar Grand Slam, something about the way it turned out just felt right…magical almost.
So what profound life lessons have I taken away from this? Three things:
- Never give up. You don’t know when your moment of glory will come to you. It can and probably will come when you least expect it so just wait for it. At 32 Roberta Vinci is nearing the end of her tennis career and just experienced her greatest moment (so far). If you believe your time to shine has past, just think about Roberta.
- Always be prepared. Your life may seem stagnant right now and you may not see much movement towards your goal. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to fall asleep on the train. Roberta talks about how even though she didn’t really think she could beat Serena she remained focused and went after every shot. Stay alert because when the train starts moving again it will go forward at full speed, and if you are not awake you will miss your stop.
- Embrace the moment when it comes. Watching the joy flow from Roberta Vinci as she declared “This is my day!” it was almost impossible not to celebrate with her. She knew she had defeated the local favorite but she didn’t care. She earned it and no one was going to stop her from enjoying every minute of it. Know that you also deserve your success and don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise.
So as the sun sets on the last big tennis event of the year, I can’t help but wonder what surprises next year will bring. For certain there will be more spectacular wins and unexpected upsets. Maybe we’ll see some new players rise to the top and others begin their descent. Perhaps Serena will get another crack at the Grand Slam. Who knows? But what I do know for sure is that I will not soon forget the amazing lessons I learned watching this year’s US Open.