The Stress and Joy of Watching Serena Williams Play Live
Even though I can’t count the number of times I have watched Serena play live, I can count the number of times I have seen her play in Grand Slam finals. I have been physically present to see her win 10 Grand Slams and lose 5 Grand Slam finals including her recent US Open lose to Bianca Andreescu (see below).
Watching Queen Serena is a very stressful moment for me even though she has a very high probability of winning (over 80%). Each point she wins or loses is a moment of tension for me and every rally is like the build up to a penalty shootout in a FIFA World Cup final.
At this year’s US Open, I decided to measure my stress level when Serena plays by wearing a heart rate monitor to record what goes on internally in my body when I watch her play.
During her final match against Bianca Andrescu, I put on a Tom Tom monitor for 1 hour 30 minutes (6 minutes shy of the duration of the match). The monitor measures heart beat per minute and calories burnt. In creating a control group, I compared my reaction with another match which did not involve Serena by wearing the same heart rate monitor during the men’s US Open final between Nadal and Medvedev (for the first 1 and a half hours to replicate the duration of the Serena match). The objective of this experiment was to test whether I am more at ease watching a tennis match in which I don’t have any skin in the game.
Under normal circumstances my resting heart beat is between 50 to 53 beats per minute (bpm). How would this change when watching Serena compared to watching Rafa Nadal?
My average heart bpm was 97 bpm and I burnt 659 calories while watching 1 hour and 30 mins of the match. I reached a maximum heart beat of 137 bpm around the time when Serena was fighting back after going 1–5 games down in the second set.
To equalise the experiment I put on the monitor for the same time duration i.e 1 hour 30 mins. During the men’s final my average heart bpm was 70 bpm and I burnt a total of 209 calories.
In watching Serena play, my average heart beat was 38.5% higher than when I watch Nadal play. Furthermore, I burnt over 3 times more calories watching Serena. To put the 659 calories I burnt while watching Serena into perspective, on the 9th of September 2019, I went for a 7.27 kilometer jog from mid-town Manhattan to Downtown Manhattan. I burnt a total of 500 calories during the run which is about 25% less calories than what I expended from sitting down watching Serena play in a Grand Slam final (see below).
I guess some reading this may think I am foolish for putting myself through this. I sometimes think so myself but if this is the price I must pay for watching Queen Serena live then it is worth it as the joy I have got from witnessing her win 10 Grand Slam titles is absolutely priceless.
It is always an honour and privilege watching Her Majesty Queen Serena and I don’t take it for granted. I have enjoyed and I am still enjoying the ride.
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA