May 28, 2019
Alexander Zverev and Naomi Osaka showed what anguish top tennis players sometimes go through.
Although both eventually found a way to progress at Roland Garros, the psychological torment was there for all to see.
Both are young, highly successful, infinitely marketable, almost perfect.
Yet they are mere mortals with flaws and they feel the pain intensely when they struggle to tap into their huge talent.
On the face of it, their problems are baffling.
Zverev won the ATP Finals in London at the end of last year. On his day he is good enough to beat anyone.
Osaka took the US Open title and followed up with the Australian Open crown at the start of this year.
She is even top seed at the French Open. However, like the great Serena Williams, she doesn’t always enjoy the weight of expectation.
For Zverev, the pressure is slightly different. He has never won a Slam. In truth, he has never come really close to winning one.
Everyone says it is only a matter of time. But when?
And so for both young stars it is tough. All eyes are upon them. They are future of tennis. But sometimes the present hurts.
And like Serena, Osaka was hurt by the humiliation of a drubbing in her very first set. A bagel was inflicted by the little-known Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. Osaka couldn’t do anything right.
She hid her head in her towel at one changeover. If she wasn’t in tears, she was very close.
The world felt her pain. Things got better in the second set, but not much. Twice her opponent served for the match and soon Osaka was just two points from defeat.
But Naomi is a stubborn young lady. Stubborn in a very good way.
She realised that the underdog had tightened after seeing the finishing line in sight. She too was vulnerable.
Somehow Osaka found a way. She battled through to take the match in three.
But few will rate her chances against Victoria Azarenka in the next round unless she improves drastically.
Azarenka swept aside the 2017 champion, Jelena Ostapenko and looks in great form.
All eyes will be on that one.
As for Alexander Zverev, his troubles came at a very different time. He appeared to be in total control. He was two sets up against John Millman.
But the Australian loves a good scrap and dug in to go the distance.
As Zverev failed to put his opponent away, his frustration grew and he smashed his racquet so hard it lay distorted in the dirt.
Like Osaka, he eventually found a way when it really mattered. After an unexpected marathon, Zverev triumphed in five. But he went through all kinds of agony to get there.
The life of a young tennis player with the world at your feet can be truly wonderful.