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Serena and Venus Williams lose at Wimbledon: Were they motivated to win?

June 27, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Venus Williams, left, and Serena Williams finish their training session at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club ahead of the Wimbledon championships on June 18 in London.
Venus Williams, left, and Serena Williams finish their training session… (Oli Scarff / Getty Images )

Tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams were both ousted by less experienced players at Wimbledon on Monday -- Serena by France's Marion Bartoli and Venus by Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova. Was it because, in the great tradition of sports narratives, the underdogs were inspired to take their frontrunning rivals down a notch?  

Well, not necessarily. According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, underdogs aren't the ones supplied with extra motivation -- the favored athlete is. People worked about 30% harder when they were ranked higher than their competitors, according to the researchers.

So why the surprising loss? To be fair, both Venus and Serena had recently recovered from injuries (including a lung hematoma for Serena) and had spent quite a bit of time off the court. And perhaps the best answer comes from Serena herself: It happens.
"I never came here thinking I would lose," she said after her defeat. "That's my attitude. You know, you win some and you lose some. Today just happened to be the one that slipped under me."

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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