National Public Radio – Jul 25, 2002 – Lynn Neary, host, All Things Considered, When Serena and Venus Williams meet each other at center court tomorrow for the women’s final at Wimbledon, tennis lovers will be waiting to see if the sisters can play a game against each other that is worthy of their talent. This is the third all-Williams final in the last four Grand Slams. But while they may dazzle on the way to the finals, they disappoint when they’re forced to compete against each other.
Dr. John Murray is a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Florida. He joins us now.
Dr. Murray, why is that Serena and Venus are great tennis players, but always seem to play so poorly against each other?
Dr. JOHN MURRAY (Sports Psychologist): Well, we’re talking about a sibling rivalry; not to say that that’s the only factor, but it certainly raises the stakes. The two–they’re dominating tennis right now and we can talk about a lot of things that influence that, but certainly if you’re thinking about who that player is, if you’re not making the face faceless and the name nameless, you could very easily be a little bit more self-conscious, a little more effortful and not as automatic, and that’s really required at a high level of tennis.
NEARY: Are there other cases where siblings have faced each other? And how did they fare?
Dr. MURRAY: Well, you can think back a few years when John McEnroe played his brother Patrick, and he made a comment that he really had to forget the fact that it was his brother out there and just go out there and perform. So when I’m working with people, I’m oftentimes tweaking performance and it’s often a very small percentage that makes the difference between winning and losing. So one of the key factors is to just stay in focus and not letting your mind get distracted by anything else besides what you’re doing in the moment.
NEARY: You know, some tennis fans are complaining that if we keep seeing the two sisters in the finals of the Grand Slam events, that it’s not going to be very interesting for tennis. But do you think they’re going to be able to get to a point where they really can play a good and interesting game of tennis against each other?
Dr. MURRAY: I certainly hope so, because we haven’t seen that recently. And I think they will. I think the more familiarity they have against one another at this level–we’re talking one and two in the world and they can go back and forth–I think you are going to eventually see some 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 matches.
NEARY: What do you think they have to do to get there?
Dr. MURRAY: They have raised the level of tennis above and beyond anything else. And I think you’re going to hope for some more competition in the lower ranks. That would certainly push them. And in order to get to the point where we as a public can enjoy watching them–I think we enjoy them right now; they really made a tremendous impact on the game and the sport.
NEARY: Just looking at them, do you have any ideas about what you might say, for instance, to Venus?
Dr. MURRAY: Well, I would certainly–she’s made a lot of double faults in the French Open. And I would `Calm down’ and work on some of the imagery or the visualization techniques that I use to help her ensure a little bit more accuracy and to totally–don’t try too hard. `Slow down and just let the performance come out,’ let her natural talent take over. That’s important at her level.
NEARY: And Serena?
Dr. MURRAY: `Keep on going. Don’t do anything differently. Stay hungry, stay aggressive. Have a lot of fun.’
NEARY: Maybe they need to envision somebody else on the other side of the net.
Dr. MURRAY: Well, I think even envisioning anybody on the other side of the net can be difficult in tennis. It’s a dual sport. It’s a highly competitive sport. And you just have to go at it and play the ball, not even think about the–if you’re thinking about the person on the other side of the net, you’re not focused.
NEARY: OK. Thanks very much.
Dr. MURRAY: Thank you, Lynn.
NEARY: Dr. John Murray is a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Florida.
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED,