It was one of the greatest sports upsets we have ever seen.
No one gave Roberta Vinci, an unseeded Italian ranked No. 43 in the world, a chance against No. 1-ranked star Serena Williams, who was just two match wins away from a calendar-year Grand Slam for the first time since 1988.
Williams was aiming for her 22nd major title, which would have tied her with Steffi Graf for the most in the Open Era. She had won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon and needed only the U.S. Open to clinch the Grand Slam.
Vinci was a 300 to 1 underdog to Williams. She had never made it past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. In four previous matches against Williams, she had never even won a set.
Stunning upset and statistics aside, I learned a lot watching this match:
Be Ready For Anything.
Before the match, Serena was asked how the rain delay affected her (they were supposed the play the night before, but got rained out), she calmly and quietly stated it didn’t affect her at all because in tennis, you have to be ready for anything. I loved that simple sentiment and confidence. As we would see later in the match, you have to be ready for people to play or act out of character, too. In this case, her opponent played out of her mind and shocked everybody, even herself.
It’s Ok To Be Nervous.
Serena is a champion. We all know that. I consider her one of the greatest athletes of all-time, and she’s my favorite athlete. I think sometimes we are guilty of placing athletes like her on a pedestal. She plays tennis like a super-human, but ultimately, Serena Williams is a human being like you and me. She has good days, challenging days, and a range of emotions. I found it interesting that someone like her, with all her accolades and experience, could be nervous. But that’s what I love about Serena–her humanity, her fight, the beautiful way she wears her emotions on her face for everyone to see. Her vulnerability is what makes her so relatable and so real, and why she has a loyal fan following both on and off the court. She’s just like us, except a much, much better tennis player.
Mistakes Are Part Of The Game, Keep Playing.
This is really big for me because I used to carry around the self-limiting belief that I had to be “perfect” in order to succeed. But here’s one of the greatest sports champions of all-time making unforced errors and hitting shots long and wide. This is part of life. We all make mistakes. We can blame it on nerves, fatigue, stress, anxiety, others, the weather, you name it, but ultimately, mistakes are part of what it means to be human, and can be our greatest teachers.
Change Your Racket/Mind.
We always have the opportunity to choose again, whether it’s our tennis racket or mind. After Serena changed her racket in the first set, she won the next several games. We can choose to change our minds at any given moment, too. For example, if you’re holding a grudge against someone, you can choose to forgive that person, choose love, let it go and move on. Or you could hold onto anger and frustration and feel lousy. Either way, you get to choose, and decide how you want your game of life to play out.
Don’t Overthink It, Use Your Instincts.
Stay present, and out of your head. Don’t give in to negative self-talk. Deep down or in your heart, you always know what to do and what would serve yourself and others the best. Trust your gut.
Don’t Give Up.
Be relentless in your pursuit of your goals. Like Vinci, just keep trying to return everything that comes your way. Points add up, and before you know it, you may just upset the world champ in front of her home crowd. Keep the hammer down!
Anything Is Possible.
Even Roberta Vinci herself said she didn’t think she had a chance to beat Williams. Her nothing-to-lose-just-enjoy-yourself and go out there and play attitude payed off. Big time.
Vinci embodied this notion. As Serena said in an interview post-match, “She played out of her mind.” Vinci rose up to the playing level of her opponent and then some. How did she do it?
Vinci told a reporter her game plan was just to have fun, and not think about the fact that she was playing Serena Williams, the number-one player in the world. She said she didn’t want to over-think the match, her goal was to just keep the ball within the lines on the court.
Enjoy The Moment.
Vinci could not believe she beat Serena Williams, calling the victory, “The greatest moment of her life.” It was clear how present and focused she was throughout the match, returning nearly everything Serena slammed her way.
The present moment is all you have. The last point is over. You may not get to play another set. All that matters is what’s in front of you right now, and you can only control what you’re doing, nothing else. Be ready!
When It’s Your Time, It’s Your Time.
As Vinci said, “Today’s my day!”
It certainly is. What’s meant for you will always be yours. So relax, work hard, stay focused, and most importantly, have fun!