During the third-round match of the 2020 US Open tennis tournament this past week, Amanda Anisimova played Maria Sakkari. Neither are huge names in the sport yet, but that appears to be on the verge of changing.
The battle of two talented players who probably haven’t reach their upside yet might be appealing enough to nominal tennis fans, but when viewers learned their backstories via the ESPN broadcast as the matched progressed, it gave fans more to root for.
This time last year, Anisimova’s father died of a heart attack as she was preparing for the US Open. She was just 18 at the time. He’d been a big part of her tennis life, making it even more difficult for her to step back onto the court for the tournament this year. In her second-round match, in which she made a comeback, she said she was thinking about her dad the entire time.
Sakkari is a little older (25) and her story isn’t nearly as dramatic but it’s still compelling. Her mom was a player on the tour (reaching number 45) but didn’t experience the same amount of success (Sakkari is in the top twenty). Sakkari berated herself early in her career when things weren’t going her way on the court, but her mental focus has improved. She went on to win this match against Anisimova in straight sets, primarily because of her newfound focus.
“Show me your habits; I’ll show you your future,” said ESPN broadcaster Tom Rinaldi during the broadcast in reference to Sakkari turning the tide.
Throughout the match, commentators built on both players stories with tidbits of information, showing pictures of Anisimova with her dad and pointing out how Sakkari was able to move on quickly after losing her serve early in the second set — saying that’s not something she would’ve done in the past.
All this background information reaffirmed the power of story. Knowing where somebody has come from and understanding his or her battles makes us care more.
We know this, inherently. It’s the reason we gravitate toward novels, movies and music as we look for common ground that bonds and inspires us.
All the more reason to connect with each other — to go deeper by letting others in. It’s not wise to let everyone in, but if we don’t allow a few into our world, it’s going to be difficult for anybody else to root for us. And we all need that.