it didn’t take long Alexander Zverev I found his situation dire.
In the semifinals of last year’s French Open, Zverev and Rafael Nadal were due to start their second tiebreaker after hours of glorious shotmaking.
But suddenly, Zverev ran wide for a forehand, dropped his right ankle to the side, and let out a roar. He staggered to the ground, red dirt sticking to the back of his black sleeveless jacket, and his hands on his ankles.
“I knew right away that my ankle was three times as big as normal,” Zverev said in a phone call about the injury that kept him out of tennis for the rest of 2022, dropping him out of second place in the ATP rankings. Told. “I wasn’t feeling very well.”
Zverev is not the first player to face a lengthy layoff due to a serious injury.
That day’s opponent, Nadal, has not played in a tour match since suffering a psoas muscle injury between his lower abdomen and upper right leg during the Australian Open in January. After four months of rehabbing injuries, Nadal, who has also suffered chronic leg pain, cracked ribs and torn abs for the past 18 months, withdrew from the French Open on May 18. . He has won Roland Garros 14 times and has competed in the tournament every year since 2005. He also hinted that he has no plans to compete at Wimbledon and that 2024 will likely be his final year on the Pro Tour.
Emma Raducanu, who won the 2021 US Open, has suffered frequent injuries since and recently underwent surgery on both wrists and one ankle. Wimbledon and US Open champion Andy Murray announced ahead of the 2019 Australian Open that he would retire after the tournament, but returned, first playing doubles, before undergoing successful hip resurfacing surgery. He later returned to singles.
Bianca Andreescu, who beat Serena Williams to win the 2019 U.S. Open, has injuries to her adductor muscles, ankles, feet, back and right shoulder, and is wondering if she should stop competing. And three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka was considering retirement after undergoing multiple knee and ankle surgeries. Wawrinka, once ranked No. 3 in the world, is now fighting to stay in the top 100.
Injury, surgery, and rehab are scary words in an athlete’s vocabulary. For professional tennis players who are treated as independent contractors rather than subject to comprehensive team sport rehabilitation, returning to the ATP and WTA tours can be physically, mentally and financially demanding. may become.
“Since I started, I’ve never had an injury and I was playing at a high intensity every day,” Dominic Thiem said over the phone. Thiem, who beat Zverev to win the 2020 U.S. Open, suffered a debilitating wrist injury in June 2021 that kept him out of action for several months. The former No. 3-ranked Thiem returned to the ATP Tour with a seven-game losing streak that plummeted his ranking to No. 352, forcing him to play in lower-level Challenger tournaments.
“When you get hurt, the whole system shuts down,” said Thiem, who is now just a few spots in the top 100. “I can’t work, I don’t have a clear plan. After coming back, I’ve never been better. I have to lower my expectations and it’s very difficult because Because over the years, I’ve set certain standards for myself, not just in the tournaments I play in, but how the ball feels, etc. Basically, everything changes.”
The process of returning from furlough can be as difficult as the injury itself. Readjusting to the rigors of constant travel and the pressure of playing games day and night, plus worrying about possible injuries, can affect a player’s recovery.
Andreescu knows it. After plaguing him with back problems for much of 2022, he finally began to recover at the Miami Open in March. But during his fourth-round match against Ekaterina Alexandrova, Andreescu rolled onto the court, clenched his left leg and let out a scream of agony.
“I’ve never felt so much pain,” Andreescu said over the phone as he prepared to return to tour in Madrid in three weeks. “The next morning, I knew what had happened, but I just wished I could wake up from a bad dream.
Andreescu has done many physical rehabs, but believes that the mind-body connection is just as important.
“I believe it all starts in the head and we create our own stress and in a way our own injuries,” she said. “Sudden accidents can happen, but it’s easy to come back from that injury if you can get your mind right.”
The WTA takes injury prevention and rehabilitation seriously. The tour has programs and staff dedicated to the physical and mental health of athletes. According to WTA senior vice president of sports science and medicine, Carol Dougherty, all athletes will receive a comprehensive range of services, including cardiology, a dermatologist visit, bone density testing, and nutrition and hydration advice. He is receiving medical care.
If a WTA player has been absent for at least eight consecutive weeks due to injury or pregnancy, she may apply. special rankingThis means that when she returns she will be ranked where she left off and will be able to compete in 8 tournaments over 52 weeks with that ranking. ATP has a similar protocol called Protected Rank.
Becky Ahlgren Bedix, the WTA’s vice president for mental health and performance, is keenly aware of the psychological impact of injuries.
“Injuries force you to step away from training and competition, rebuild your team, and set other priorities in your life,” Bedix said. We encourage people to remove WTA rankings from their phones so that they don’t go away. compared to his peers. “It’s tough for athletes who are just thinking, ‘How can I go back and what if I can’t go back?'”
Bedix and her mental health team encourage players to address their own expectations once they return to play.
“There are so many stressors in this game, including financial ones,” Bedix added. “Our athletes are usually very young and aren’t going to be doing this job for 50 years. Listening to the “status quo”. We want them to not only look forward, but look back and see how far we’ve come. “
Daria Saville understands the play-for-pay nature of tennis. She had recurrent Achilles tendon and plantar fasciitis since 2016. She had surgery after the 2021 Australian Open, which kept her out of the game for nearly a year. And she tore her anterior cruciate ligament while competing at the Tokyo Games last September, requiring further surgery.
Saville, who also underwent anterior cruciate ligament surgery in 2013, said: “Every time I get injured, I think about my life and what would it be without tennis? You don’t have to think about it too much because you’re going to get caught, and the worst thing you can do is play badly and lose the game.”
Fortunately for Saville, the financial burden has been eased with support from Tennis Australia, which pays for physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches. She also gets encouragement from her coach, former tour player Nicole Pratt.
When Thiem looks back on his wrist injury, he connects the dots with winning the US Open. Thiem said that after reaching that goal, he suddenly lost the passion and motivation to play and began practicing at lower intensity levels, ultimately leading to injuries. Trying to go back was tough.
“I will never forget it,” Thiem said. “Other players were playing while I was not playing, and they practiced and improved and were ahead of me. That makes it even harder to come back.”