It’s Only Natural To Feel Pressure
How you respond to it shapes your life
The crowd begins to settle down as the action resumes. The once roaring voices are reduced to a murmur.
Throughout the crowd, a smattering of people call out to their beloved hero below.
“Come on Tim!” One chant begets another, more and more people add their voice to the encouragement flowing around the court.
The umpire urges the crowd to quieten down, reminding them there is still a match to be finished.
Tim eyes his opponent on the opposite side of the crowd. the sweat dripping from his forehead, he bounces the ball on the ground over and over again.
He looks up a second time, his racket raises in unison with his body, the ball flies up into the air. His racket meets the ball flush, which soars over the net and beyond his opponent in a flash.
The crowd roars in delight, the noise is palpable. The anticipation that this time, he will finally do it, is evident in the impassioned screams.
Once again, they quieten down and await their hero’s next move.
If you lived in England during the late 90s and early 2000s, you will be familiar with the above. This scenario was played out every summer in the most quintessential of British tournaments, Wimbledon.
For years, the obsession with the tournament being won by a Brit was unbearable. Every summer, the population would get its hopes up, only for them to be dashed once again.
The last British winner of the tournament was Fred Perry in 1936. The wait had turned into an obsession.
The fixation of this obsession was Tim Henman, he had emerged in the 90s, as the best player in the country and his run to a first semi-final in 1998 rekindled the hope there might finally be a home winner of the tournament.
However, in what would be a recurring theme, Henman was unable to make the final leap and lost his semi-final to the eventual winner, Pete Sampras.
Henman reached a further three semi-finals, but each time he was unable to make it to the final. It’s not clear cit why he was unable to make this step. Granted, he lost to the eventual winner in each of his semi-finals, however, there is an element of pressure in all of this.
The excitement generated whenever Henman reached a semi-final was enormous. It felt as if the whole country stopped to watch the matches, such was the level of interest.
Henman had the weight of the nation on his shoulders and maybe this weighed him down. Maybe, he was unable to cope with the pressure that came with attempting to become the first British winner in over 50 years.
The absurdity of the pressure he was under is reflected in the fact that a hill outside Centre Court in Wimbledon was rechristened as ‘Henman Hill’ following one of his runs to the semi-finals.
Henmania swept the nation every summer. The belief that this year would be the year that Tim finally vanquished his demons ended the agonising wait for a winner.
Alas, it was not to be. Henman could never live up to the pressure that was foisted upon him. All too often he would crack as the weight of expectation pushed him down.
The wait continued.
Following Henman’s retirement in 2007, there was a fear that the wait for a British winner of Wimbledon may drag on indefinitely. If Tim was unable to end the drought, then who could?
The answer lay in the form of a young Scot called, Andy Murray. He was the antithesis of Henman. A wiry player who dominated from the baseline, whereas Henman liked to play serve and volley.
When Murray reached the fourth round at his second tournament in 2006, there was a sense that he might be able to challenge for the title in the future.
However, three successive semi-final defeats from 2009 to 2011 raised the question of whether, like Henman, he would ever be able to make the next step.
Was the pressure of expectation crushing him as it had Henman?
This was dispelled the following year when Murray became the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938.
The euphoria was short-lived as Murray was unable to beat Roger Federer. The pressure was etched on Murray’s face as he broke down in tears after the match. The emotion of the day the expectation proving too much for him.
When Murray reached the final again the following year, there was renewed optimism he could end the wait. Not only had he won his first Grand Slam tournament the previous year at the US Open, but he also won Olympic gold at Wimbledon following his defeat in the tournament.
If there was ever going to be a British winner of Wimbledon, this was the time!
And so it was. After 77 long years, a British man had won at Wimbledon. Murray’s victory over Novak Djokovic was routine as he won in three straight sets.
All the agony, all the despair was ended in one short afternoon during the English summer. Murray had risen to the pressure, seized the moment and delivered when it mattered most.
When you look back at Murray’s victory in 2013, the most striking thing about it is the level of anticipation as victory nears. The crowd becomes more agitated, the screams have extra weight to them, the breaks between play are longer as the umpire struggles to bring the frenzy under control.
Evident everywhere is the sense that the long wait is about to come to an end. The frenzied roars are a release, the ghosts of the past being exorcised.
The moment he wins a collective yell reverberates around the stadium. It continues unabated for a good three minutes before the noise starts to die down slightly. Watching the footage back, it becomes clear how long people have waited for this moment.
One man was able to deliver that moment, another struggled to live up to the expectation. The pressure that fed Murray, consumed Henman. He was unable to shoulder the weight of a nation, Murray embraced his previous failures and shouldered the burden.
Pressure is an integral part of life. It may be uncomfortable, it may weigh us down, but it’s something we have to accept. To go through life without any form of pressure, would be to not exist at all.
Whether it is the pressure of winning a tennis tournament, the pressure of passing a test, or the pressure of making wholesale changes to your life, pressure is something we have to get used to.
It’s easy to crack under pressure, the weight of it makes even the best of us crack under its unrelenting load. However, we must stand firm in the face of pressure. That we match it stride for stride.
The key to dealing with pressure is to turn it on itis head. Instead, of being overwhelmed by pressure, acknowledge it as a challenge, a duel to be won.
The times we feel pressure are often those moments that we have longed for. Think of the sportsperson who has dreamt of victory for years, the student who has worked all year to pass this one test, pressure is often created by our own dreams and expectations.
Understanding that it is normal to be under pressure and to feel it, is the first step to not becoming overwhelmed by it.
Henman could have been remembered as the man that broke the long wait for a British winner of Wimbledon, but he could not deal with the pressure it brought. In the end, it was Murray who brought home the holy grail.
You can either succumb to it like Henman, or you can rise to the occasion like Murray.
Which one will it be?