Pro Tennis Must Address The Injury Epidemic
The professional tennis season is a long one. How long? If we take a look at the men’s pro calendar, the current Mason, OH event is the 53rd out of 72 scheduled for a year that started on January 1 and ends on November 26. This includes Davis Cup. For the women, Mason is the 48th out of 72, and their season ends on the same date and includes the Fed Cup. These players fly around the globe at a breakneck pace, chasing titles, ranking points, and for some, just enough prize money to allow them to continue the chase. They don’t all travel in private planes. It can be a lonely, grueling gig.
Which brings us to the current injury epidemic in professional tennis- one that has reached a serious level. Look at the men’s game as of this date. Djokovic (elbow), Wawrinka (knee), and now Nishikori (wrist) are out for the rest of the year. Andy Murray’s hip injury has caused him to pull out of multiple events including the Roger’s Cup and the Western & Southern Open in Mason, OH. One would guess his US Open is in jeopardy, too. Roger Federer (back), Milos Raonic (wrist) and Human Highlight Film AKA Gaël Monfils (illness) also pulled out of Mason. Rafa Nadal, back in superb form after his own injury battle that lasted several years, is still in the draw.
On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova returned from a 15 month suspension and has already withdrawn from multiple events due to an arm injury, including Birmingham, the Wimbledon qualies, Stanford, and Mason. We all saw the terrible knee injury suffered by Bethanie Mattek-Sands at Wimbledon. Sam Stosur has pulled out of NYC due to a right hand injury. (For other various reasons the women’s circuit is still missing a lot of star power. Petra Kvitová was attacked with a knife, and fortunately she’s back and OK. Victoria Azarenka had time off due to having a baby, something Serena Williams is doing now. Azarenka also withdrew from Mason for personal reasons.)
Take the brutal travel, factor in one-off exhibition appearances and endorsement requirements, and you have a merry-go-round that’s hard to stop. No one twists anyone’s arm for extras like exhibitions and endorsement events, but money talks, and if you’re not one of the big guns, you’ve got to think about them. And no one’s saying the players aren’t fit. Medical technologies and fitness routines are state of the art these days. No question players take advantage of these things, but the miles add up, and that’s when the players go down. You’ve also got improved technology, better and more powerful racquets and strings. The game is more powerful than ever, and only the strong can survive and flourish.
Not the place I wanted to be 🤒but 2nd surgery went well 😓😅! That’s mean I can start my preparation 🕺🏻… 2018 see you soon🎉! Thanks to all- pic.twitter.com/wGgrZpiwa6
— Stanislas Wawrinka (@stanwawrinka) August 15, 2017
It comes down to too many events, and not enough time to recover. The top names of the sport are getting older, and the cumulative effect is showing. Playing styles and surfaces also factor in. Look at Rafa Nadal. He doesn’t play tennis, he assaults it. Every point is a superhuman attack on the ball, and that kind of game is going wear you down, as we’ve seen. On the other hand, Federer appears to glide about the court. Yet his back forced him out of Mason. And he was out the last half of 2016 due to a knee injury (which wasn’t competition-related.) Many events are hard court such as the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Mason, and the US Open- ask a player how their knees feel on that after awhile.
Besides the knees, wrists are another pain point. When a player whips a forehand or backhand, that places a lot of stress on that body part. “Indeed, wrist injuries are commonplace amongst high level tennis players due in part to overuse —prominently when a players’ biomechanics place soft tissue structures at risk,” Dr. Jennifer Solomon, physiatrist at Hospital for Special Surgery, said to Tennis Identity. “Functional core strength and dynamic stability are the root of force generation and absorption to the outlying extremities; any inadequacy can manifest in compensation and ultimately injury paired with repetitive stress. “
Earlier this year, American surgeon Dr. Richard Berger said in the Telegraph, “There are too many events, and on both the WTA and ATP tours there’s very little down time. There’s not enough healing time because of the intensity of the matches, and in most tournaments outside the slams there’s not even a day’s rest. Players need to have superhuman abilities to stay fit.” Berger knows his stuff, being the surgeon for chronically injured (wrist) Juan Martin del Potro and also Laura Robson. The Telegraph also noted that Murray competed in 87 matches in the 2016 season that ended on November 20, but was back at it on December 30. Meaning he was off for six weeks or so.
It’s time for the ruling bodies of the sport to clean up the calendar and rework the number of tournaments being played. There are too many events. Too many times, it would appear that the player/coach/agent are their own worst enemies, trying to jam just one more event into a packed schedule, in the hopes of gaining points/cash/whatever. Again, we go back to the schedule. Now, in order to boost the sport’s profile, not only are there the season-ending ATP Finals in London, (the “Emirates ATP Race to London”) there are the “Next Gen Finals” in Milan, too. Predictably, it’s Emirates “ATP Race to Milan.”
It’s always a race. Stick a title sponsor and a hashtag on it and you’re good to go. As long as you have enough players to fill out the draw. But then, there are always the lucky losers.
*Feature image by Getty.