Gathered at Louis Armstrong Stadium for the 2018 US Open Media Day, top seeds Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, and Madison Keys break down what they actually mean by aiming to enjoy their matches ahead of the Grand Slam fortnight.
David Kane
August 24, 2018

NEW YORK, NY, USA - Settle in for any match at the upcoming 2018 US Open and you will immediately get the sense that tennis, the game you play at your local courts or watch on TV, is one serious sport.

(Try not to burn yourself on that hot take).

Each point is a possible momentum shift as two players wage proverbial war in hot and humid conditions, often for hours at a time.

But peruse your average media transcript and observe that the players themselves, hardened competitors all, are mainly focused on fun. 

"When I start the match, I don't enjoy any more. I'm really focused. I have a battle in front of me. I have to do everything I can to win the match. I'm very competitive, so that jumps into my personality on court."
Simona Halep

"I just want to give my best tomorrow and to enjoy," World No.1 Simona Halep said after reaching the Coupe Rogers final in Montréal two weeks ago.

"For me now it's more important to be improve my game and also have fun with what I'm doing," insisted three-time major champion Angelique Kerber back in June.

It feels like a refreshing note of positivity in a sometimes dour press conference, but repeat it enough times and it loses all meaning. What is fun about a final set tie-break? How does one find enjoyment from missing a shot they can likely hit blindfolded in practice?

"Well, when I start the match, I don't enjoy anymore," Halep jokingly admitted at the Media Day on Louis Armstrong Stadium. "I'm really focused. I have a battle in front of me. I have to do everything I can to win the match. I'm very competitive, so that jumps into my personality on court."

Madison Keys, US Open

Much of the Romanian's narrative arc has concerned her quest to channel frustration into fire. She has gotten better than ever at this particular emotional alchemy in 2018, at last winning her maiden major title at Roland Garros and securing her No.1 ranking through the US Open thanks to a title in Montréal and a runner-up finish at the Western & Southern Open.

The decease in tension for Halep is obvious to all who meet her, especially away from the match court.

"When I'm practicing and also when I'm at the tournaments, I enjoy the time more. I feel like it's better when you are like that because you are relaxed and you can be natural, so you can do anything you feel."

Kerber endured similar struggles after her career year in 2016, failing to defend either of her major titles and falling out of the Top 10. Now a Wimbledon champion and one major away from the Career Grand Slam, she considers the right attitude essential to success, and key to her 2018 resurgence.

"This is why we practice. We have to have the fun on court, to have the joy to play the matches, the big points. I think this is the challenge. I'm always looking for it."
Angelique Kerber

"I think without the passion and without the fun on court, you cannot play your best, because this is what we love: being there, playing in front of a full house. This is something really special."

Fun, then, is less about the ephemeral moments - where one converts a break point or strikes an unreturnable serve - and more a shorthand for a state of mind, one required to unlock a player's ultimate potential.

"I think when we say 'fun,' sometimes we don't mean, like, actual fun," explains 2017 finalist Madison Keys. "Like, it's never really 'fun' to be 5-5 in the third set and break point down. I think it's having fun competing and trying your best, knowing that when you come off the court you gave everything. That's part of enjoying yourself.

"Granted, when you win easily, you're, like, 'Yeah, that was "fun" today.' But you also have to remember that in those matches that you win in a tie-break in the third. When you get through those, you feel amazing and they're great and you enjoyed yourself.

"There's also the risk that sometimes you're going to be on the losing side of that. You might not be as thrilled about your experience on the court that day."

It will undoubtedly be a fun Sunday afternoon for whomever is left the trophy. The rest will have to shift focus to the next major tournament, all the while enoying the thrill of the hunt.