Tennis injuries pose serious problems for the best players

It didn’t take long Alexander Zverev to understand that his situation was terrible.

After hours of brilliant strikes, Zverev and Rafael Nadal were due to start the second tiebreaker in their semi-final match at last year’s French Open.

But suddenly Zverev ran forward for a right hand, flipped his right ankle on its side and roared. He collapsed to the ground, red clay stuck to the back of his black sleeveless top, and grabbed his ankle with his hands.

“I immediately knew that I was finished because my ankle was three times larger than usual,” Zverev said by phone. injury this took him off tennis for the rest of 2022 and dropped his ATP ranking from No. 1.2 outside the top 20. “It was an uncomfortable feeling.”

Zverev is perhaps the first player forced to take a long vacation due to a serious injury.

His opponent that day, Nadal, had not played on the tour since he sore psoas muscle between the lower abdomen and the upper right leg during the Australian Open in January. After repeatedly trying to rehabilitate the injury over the past four months, Nadal, who has also suffered from chronic leg pain, a broken rib and a torn abdominal muscle over the past 18 months, withdrew from the French Open on 18 May.. He is a 14-time Roland Garros champion and has competed in the tournament every year since 2005. He also indicated that he had no plans to play at Wimbledon and that 2024 would likely be his final year on the professional tour.

Emma Radukanu, won the 2021 US Open, has been frequently injured ever since and recently had surgery on both her wrists and one ankle. Andy Murray, Wimbledon and US Open Champion announced ahead of the 2019 Australian Open that he was retiring after the tournament only to return, first playing doubles, then return to singles after successful hip replacement surgery.

Bianca Andreescuwho beat Serena Williams win the US Open 2019, suffered injuries to her adductor, ankle, foot, back, and right shoulder, leading her to consider whether she should stop competing. And Stan Wawrinka, a three-time world champion, was considering retirement after multiple knee and ankle surgeries. Once ranked number one in the world. 3, Wawrinka is now fighting to stay in the top 100.

Injuries, surgery and rehabilitation are terrible words in the vocabulary of any athlete. For professional tennis players who are not protected by a comprehensive team sport rehabilitation program but are instead treated as independent contractors, returning to the ATP and WTA Tours can be physically, mentally and even financially exhausting.

“From the very beginning, I never got injured and played with high intensity every day,” Dominic Thiem said by phone. Tim, who beat Zverev to win the 2020 US Open, suffered a debilitating wrist injury in June 2021 and was sidelined for several months. Once ranked No. 1.3 Thiem lost seven matches in a row when he first returned to the ATP Tour and his ranking plummeted to No. 1.352, forcing him to play in the lower level Challenger tournaments.

“In the event of an injury, the whole system stops,” said Tim, who now only ranks in the top 100. You can’t do your job and you no longer have a clear plan. After I returned, it was like never before. You have to lower your expectations, but it’s very difficult because over the years you’ve set a certain standard for yourself, not only in the tournaments you play, but also in how you feel the ball. In short, everything is changing.”

The process of coming back from a layoff can be as difficult as the injury itself. Getting used to the harsh conditions of constant travel and the intensity of matches at any time of the day or night, as well as worry about the possibility of re-injury, can affect a player’s recovery.

Andreescu knows this. Plagued by back problems for much of 2022, she finally began to recover at the Miami Open in March. But during the fourth round match against Ekaterina Alexandrova, Andreescu fell onto the court, clutching her left leg and screaming in pain.

“I’ve never felt such pain,” Andreescu said by phone as she prepared to return to the tour three weeks later in Madrid. “The next morning I knew what had happened, but I just hoped I was waking up from a bad dream. Then I felt pain and realized that it was true.”

Andreescu has rehabilitated her body many times, but she is also convinced that the mind-body connection is just as important.

“I believe that everything starts in the head and that we ourselves create stress and, in a way, our own traumas,” she said. “There are strange accidents, but if you can think right, it’s easier to recover from those injuries.”

The WTA takes injury prevention and rehabilitation seriously. The tour has a program and staff specifically dedicated to the physical and psychological well-being of the athletes. According to Carol Doherty, WTA Senior Vice President of Sports Science and Medicine, all of her players receive comprehensive medical care, including cardiology, dermatological check-ups, bone density checks, and nutrition and hydration advice.

When a WTA player is not injured or is pregnant for at least eight consecutive weeks, she may apply for Special Rating, which means that upon her return, she will pick up where she left off and be able to compete in eight tournaments within 52 weeks at that ranking. ATP has a similar protocol called Protected Ranking.

Becky Ahlgren Bedix, WTA Vice President of Mental Health and Sports Career, understands the psychological impact of injury.

“Injuries take you out of training and competition and force you to regroup and re-prioritize your life,” said Bedix, who encourages players who are not on tour to delete WTA ratings from their phones so they can’t see where they are. are. compared to their peers. “It’s tough for an athlete whose only thought is, ‘How can I come back and what happens if I don’t?’

Bedix and her mental health team encourage players to manage their expectations when they return to the game.

“There are so many stressors in this game, including financial ones,” Bedix added. “Our athletes are usually very young and not going to be doing this for 50 years. Sometimes they support their families. So we help them listen to what is, not what if. We want them to look ahead, but also back, to see how far they’ve come.”

Daria Saville understands the nature of tennis “playing for money”. Since 2016, she has repeatedly suffered from Achilles tendon problems and plantar fasciitis. After the 2021 Australian Open, she underwent surgery that left her unable to play for nearly a year. Then, during a competition in Tokyo last September, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, requiring additional surgery.

“Every time I get injured, I think about my life and wonder what it would be like without tennis,” said Saville, who also had anterior cruciate ligament surgery in 2013. Life on tour is not so hard. Everything is done for you, so you don’t have to overdo it. The worst thing that can happen is to play poorly and lose the match.”

Fortunately for Saville, the financial burden has been eased thanks to the support she receives from her National Tennis Federation of Australia, which pays for her physiotherapist and strength and conditioning coaches. She is also receiving encouragement from her coach, former tour member Nicole Pratt.

When Tim reminisces about his wrist injury, he links the events to winning the US Open. Upon reaching this goal, according to Tim, he suddenly lost his passion and motivation for the game, prompting him to train at a lower intensity level, which eventually led to the injury. Trying to return was difficult.

“I can’t forget,” Tim said, “that all the time I wasn’t playing, other players were playing, training, improving and moving ahead of me. This makes it even more difficult to return.”