By Luke Jensen, French Open Doubles Champion
The tennis world continues to evolve yet stays the same. On the pro tour, young faces like Ben Shelton and the teenage Fruhvirtova sisters continue to improve against the toughest talent on the planet. I’ve been able to see these future stars up close under pressure, and what stands out to me is how mature they are at this level. Shelton comes from a tennis family; his father was a professional player, and his uncle, Todd Witsken, beat Jimmy Connors at the US Open! Handling the pressure of living up to such a strong family legacy is enormous, but “Dangerous Ben” is down for the competition and smiles at the biggest moments in matches as his secret weapon.
Linda and Brenda Fruhvirtova will turn 18 and 16 (respectively) in early 2023. Linda already has won a WTA Tour event while Brenda is in the top 100 on the WTA rankings after qualifying for the Australian Open. What stands out to me is the way they work together and support each other. The professional tennis tour is extremely lonely, and the rigorous lifestyle burns out more talent than the level of competition does. The Fruhvirtova sisters are tremendous fighters. In all the matches and practices I’ve witnessed, they always are in control of their emotions. I think the future is bright for these three young pros.
There also are great lessons to be learned from the veterans on the tour. The first major of the year produced some memorable story lines. Aryna Sabalenka is as talented as anyone on tour, but had yet to win a major singles title — until the Australian Open. Last year, Sabalenka’s second serve was a mess. She would double-fault in double digits in every match and effectively gave away matches. However, she retooled her mental approach and techniques to a reliable second serve and had a winning run in Australia. Sabalenka called it taking responsibility. She had a sports physiologist on her team whom she had let go before the 2023 season. She said it was about taking responsibility for her own problems on the court — an interesting approach from a modern player.
The story of the 2023 Aussie Open is Novak Djokovic who won his 10th title in Melbourne and 23rd major singles title. He is a player who seems to find solutions to distractions both on and off the court and continues to grow his game. Djokovic is not known for his serve, but at one point in the final set of the championship, he won 22 straight points on his serve. He is a player with a growth mindset who is always looking to improve on his performance. I learn something new every time I see him compete. He always is in control when things seem to be out of control. It’s an honor to see him compete.
As you enter the ALTA spring season and those leagues are beginning to form, have you evaluated what you want from your league experience? Are you on the right team and level of play that makes you happy? The relationship you have with tennis should be a healthy one where you are excited about being with your teammates in practices and matches. I always advise players to find teams that make them smile when they are together. I’ve been on all kinds of teams in my tennis journey and the best outcomes happened when I was with good people. Find a squad where you can play as much as you can commit to, depending on your schedule. Remember, when you join a team be prepared to play with different partners. Nothing drives a team captain crazier than a player who has “conditions.” Think about the team when you join a squad and what you can do to contribute to the fun of the season, no matter if you win or lose.