Sloane Stephens, 24, won the US Open tennis tournament this month. She’s the first American woman—not named Williams—to win a Grand Slam since Jennifer Capriati won the Australian Open in 2002. Sloane was unseeded and ranked in the 900s last month and will now be ranked 17th.  

What was most touching was how Stephens embraced her opponent, Madison Keys at the end of a lopsided final, in which Keys lost badly 6-3 6-0 in 61 minutes. Keys was crying as they were hugging each other. You could observe  Stephens saying something to Keys while tears streamed down. Stephens and Keys have been friends—and rivals—since their mid-teens. Keys said during the trophy presentation, while fighting off tears, that she didn’t play her best, “If there is someone I have to lose to today, I’m glad it is her.” Stephens said, “I told Madison that I wish there could have been a draw.”

This level of friendship and rivalry is a rarity in life, especially in the highest echelon of competitive sports. My 2009 book, Collaborative Competition™:  A Woman’s Guide to Succeeding by Competing, was based on the inspiring—and then unique—rivalry and friendship of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, which started in the 1970s.  

My goal was to encourage women to learn how to practice healthy competition and form pacing partners with women and men who stretch  them beyond their comfort zone. That is the only way we can learn and grown. Competition of any kind is a challenge to most women, as we value intimacy more than one-upmanship. This new crop of top women professional tennis players are demonstrating that it is possible to strive to win, play your best—and still be friends with your rivals.  

Thank you.

 

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