Sports

The void nightmare breaks even the greatest

Drinking nights, messy hotel rooms, tears in the catacombs: the documentary “Break Point” offers intimate glimpses behind the facade of tennis professionals. But instead of the superstar dream, there’s a nightmare of loneliness – and the fear of failure is ever-present.

“You’re all alone there.” Close-up slow-motion shots of tennis players changing rallies accompany his haunting off-screen quotes. Exciting music. Drama. “Suddenly I notice how much fear is rising in me,” said one. “That voice in your head just won’t calm down,” another.

The Netflix documentary “Break Point”, released at the start of the Australian Open, immediately specifies the subject and the tone of the series initially in five episodes (the next five episodes will follow in June). It’s about the inner life of athletes, the look behind the facade of professionals. And there’s anxiety and depression. There, the dream of becoming a tennis star quickly turns into a fight against demons, into a nightmare of loneliness. The nightmare of the great void. “Can you play every point like your life depends on it?”

Tennis is at the dawn of a great turning point. Roger Federer is gone. Serena Williams is gone. Rafael Nadal continues to get injured. Who will take his place? Does the new generation really have what it takes to supplant the old grandmasters who are their childhood idols? “Break Point” wants to accompany you on this path. The makers of the documentary have already made the “F1: Drive to Survive” series a huge success. But the most exciting questions that keep coming up in the interviews for the documentary are: can the younger generation handle the mental pressure in the tennis circus – and do they even want to accept it?

“Break Point” documents the 2022 season and begins with Nick Kyrgios. The so-called tyrant of tennis. The local hero has to cancel the start of the Australian Open in his home country this year as he suffers from knee problems, but last year he said he really wanted to win the Grand Slam title . Other players call him the most talented player of his generation in front of Netflix cameras but say he doesn’t do enough with his talent. Kyrgios is eliminated from the tournament in the 2nd round at Melbourne 2022 after not playing in any tournament for months.

“Tennis is an extremely solitary sport”

The 27-year-old is resisting a ‘normal’ tennis life. “You travel at least 30 weeks a year,” reports Taylor Fritz from the United States. “It depresses you.” And so Kyrgios prefers to be the part-time professional. Practice the sport almost like a hobby. “Tennis is an extremely solitary sport,” he says. “That’s what I struggle with the most. I have to be with my family.” The fans cheer him on. Great moments and victories on the field Millions of dollars in prizes. None of this helps against the feeling of fighting alone against the rest of the world when he’s on the field and traversing the world.

That’s why his girlfriend and her team are always with him when he goes to his few tournaments. In the documentary, Kyrgios looks like a dear prankster, is in love, and constantly cuddles with his new flame. Bad boy, bully, tennis slob? Who wouldn’t be angry if he made mistakes on the biggest stage, says the Aussie on the matter. He just has two personalities and the one on the pitch is pretty wild.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the pressure and loneliness on the pitch are also to blame for his monsters. When he beat Nadal at Wimbledon aged 19, everyone suddenly expected him to be ‘the next big thing’. The next ace on the tennis circuit. In Australia, he becomes a superstar overnight. People are camping in front of his house. No one taught the teenager how to manage these expectations. The media, the spotlight, it’s too much for Kyrgios at the time. “My mental state deteriorated more and more,” he says. “I drank every night.” His manager reports that he had to find out for several days in which hotel or house the tennis pro was staying. “I worry about him every day,” says Norlaila, Kyrgios’ mother. “Because he went through some really terrible times.”

“Most of the time I was sad”

Loud “slaps” on every forehand, on every serve. Big plans. super slow. Moans, grunts, screams. squeaky shoes. The documentary comes around the corner with some effects and makes for a thrilling ride. The paths of the young savages are commented on by ex-professionals Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick. But then there are plenty of quiet scenes, intimate glimpses that make the documentary worth watching.

Messy hotel rooms. room service. Bad Netflix movies. Prepare the lugage. Take a vacation. Taxi. sorry. Solitude.

Leaving after the game. Airpods in the ear. Scattered fitness rooms. On the physio bench. Empty.

Fitting room. With the opponent in the warm-up area. No greeting. Enter the brightly lit arena. Tears or cheers and hugs in the catacombs. Dream and nightmare close to each other. To print.

Mental emptiness is not a new phenomenon in tennis. “Most of the time I was sad, I had lost the joy of playing tennis, so I thought I had to retire,” said Nadal, the professional with the most Grand Slam titles recently. of all time, to the Spanish newspaper “Marca”. Tennis legend Andre Agassi writes in his “Open” biography about how he hated the sport, in part because of the pressure his father had built up. Also because it was “so damn lonely”, a repetitive drudgery of travel and training punctuated by bouts of hectic combat.

Absolute solitude on the court

Unhealthy expectations and pressures exist in all professional sports. But rarely is an athlete so alone and so completely alone, surrounded by thousands of frantic fans, with millions of spectators on the screen, like in tennis, where you are not allowed to show any weakness to your opponent . In team sports, burdens, frustrations and glory are shared. Even in boxing, you can at least touch, hug, push your opponent. Agassi writes in his book: “In tennis, on the other hand, you stand facing your opponent, you punch him, but you are not allowed to touch him or talk to him or anyone else. ‘other.” The loneliness is absolute. And yet, there is nowhere to hide. “This sport, man,” says Wimbledon 2021 runner-up Matteo Berrettini. “Crazy.”

Mental demons erupt again and again in the following episodes on Berrettini et Cie, none of whom are yet superstars who live a life between the hope of absolute success and the enormous fear of failure. It is perhaps significant that nine of the ten documentary professionals have already left the Australian Open in 2023.

This is Ajla Tomljanovic. “My thoughts started to spin,” the Aussie says of leaving Melbourne a year ago. “All the negativity just came to me at once. That voice in my head wouldn’t stop. It wasn’t fun anymore.” After the game, she sits angry and desperate in the catacombs, on the verge of tears. “What’s the point of being there if I don’t think I can win? Maybe I’m doing something wrong. I’m just retiring. I feel like I’ve gone crazy, It kills me Understand.” Her friend Berrettini says: “I feel a lot of fear. As always, it’s a matter of balancing fear and will.” “Tennis is brutal. It goes on, with or without you,” added Tomljanovic.

silent nightmare

Maria Sakkari of Greece couldn’t sleep for “three days” after her 2021 Roland Garros semi-final loss. “I was so sad,” she says. “It was difficult for me. I told my coaches that I wanted to retire.” His mother, a former tennis pro, says, “Tennis players don’t lose to their opponents. They lose to themselves. As the camera follows Paula Badosa in Madrid and the Spaniard is already eliminated in the second round of the tournament in her hometown, she cries during the interview, in which she talks about bankruptcy: “I had so many negative voices in the head. “

Along with Naomi Osaka, Badosa is one of the few pros to speak openly about her years battling depression. As a teenager, she won the Junior French Open. Similar to Kyrgios, expectations then skyrocket. After that, few victories follow. “Life didn’t have much meaning back then,” says the 25-year-old. “Because since I was seven my goal was to become a tennis pro. It was very bad, I didn’t want to go on a tennis court.” With the help of psychologists, she finds solutions and then openly deals with her psychological problems, “because even the best athlete in the world can feel this”.

Loneliness, showing no weakness, enormous pressure: “Break Point” paints a picture that paints the professional athlete’s dream more realistically than many other documentaries. This life is not for everyone and brings with it a lot of negativity. Paul Annacone, current coach of Taylor Fritz and former coach of legends Federer and Pete Sampras, sums up the hideous tennis knot thus: “In the greatest moments of your life, you are alone. And it’s as quiet as a mouse. .” This fear makes all field professionals equal. And few find ways to deal with it permanently: the nightmare of the Void.

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