Bianca Andreescu recently won the 2019 Women’s US Open. It was an epic win, one that almost 3.5 million people in Canada watched live on TV. Hers is a story of leadership, of determination.
But before the US Open, she demonstrated something else: compassion.
Across two tournaments and over just a few weeks, Andreescu and another tennis player, Naomi Osaka, provided masterclass demonstrations of compassion. In an age where bi-partisanship is close to non-existent, Andreescu and Osaka are formidable, compassionate leaders.
They’re teaching us how to lead.
First, a story about Osaka. At the 2019 US Open, 21-year old Osaka was up against 15-year old Coco Gauff in a third-round match. The pre-match hype was off the charts, in part due to Gauff’s young age—and being American—but also due to Japan’s Osaka being the reigning US Open champion.
Gauff’s own growing legend was coming off the heels of a magical fourth-round run at Wimbledon. Indeed, US Open organizers had to provide a wildcard entry for Gauff to even participate in the fabled New York tennis tourney.
Prior to the US Open, the backlash began to mount regarding Gauff’s special wildcard pass. Even before the matchup between Osaka and Gauff took place, Osaka had this to say about Gauff’s participation:
“Like, come on. This is such a good experience for her. She obviously deserves to play here. She played well in Wimbledon, she’s super young and, for me, it’s the same as if someone plays the US Open juniors just to gain experience for how the main tournament is. Except she can actually play the main tournament. I don’t see how it would harm her at all.”
Osaka was in Gauff’s corner before they met on the court. How compassionate.
However, the real story surfaces when they finally met face-to-face on the court at Flushing Meadows. Osaka had her way with Gauff easily defeating the youngster in straight sets 6-3, 6-0.
Gauff was distraught, tears rolling down her face. The dream of winning the US Open, crushed.
Ever so observant and sympathetic, Osaka stepped in.
“Instead of going into the shower and crying by yourself, just stay here with me. Trust me I’ve been here before,” said Osaka.
She then broke protocol and demanded that the teenage sensation join her for the post-match on-court interview with broadcaster Mary Joe Fernandez. It was unprecedented. It was the very definition of humility.
A few weeks earlier in Toronto before the US Open, Canada’s Bianca Andreescu was up against arguably the finest female tennis player to ever have played, Serena Williams. It was the final of the Rogers Cup, an epic showdown. Canada versus America. Teenager versus late 30’s mom.
The match lasted less than 20 minutes. Andreescu was up 3-1 when play was halted. A nagging back injury forced Williams to retire. The bowl of popcorn I had beside me wasn’t even touched.
When the umpire announced that Williams was forced to forfeit, Andreescu immediately shot up from her seat and approached the legend. A distraught look of concern for Williams’s health was followed by an emotional hug from Andreescu. It was her first reaction: empathize for the fallen.
At the US Open, she demonstrated further humbleness and empathy. When addressing the crowd after her win, Andreescu said, “I know you wanted Serena to win, and I’m sorry.”
Like with Osaka, it was a clear demonstration of compassion, of sympathy, and grace. (And very Canadian of her to say sorry!)
Back in Toronto, the post-match on-court comments from Andreescu about Williams were nothing short of humble. She continued by then specifically thanking volunteers, organizers and the ball boys and girls at the tournament. It was all class.
Osaka and Andreescu teach us a few lessons about leadership:
- Even in business, we must remember that our competitors are only human. We may end up winning but beating people when they’re down is inhumane.
- Always be attentive to the feelings of others. You never know when you might need their help.
- Compassion is a leadership strength. Whoever says it makes you seem weak are weak-minded themselves.
Kudos to Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu. Their demonstrations of compassion might just be the seeds of a less polarized world.