In Charleston in Pain
by Bobby Chintapalli, TW Contributing Editor
Remember when you didn’t need a medical degree to talk about tennis? When bandages weren’t a girl’s best friend? When tennis player Dinara Safina actually played tennis? Those were the good, old days, weren’t they? Long ago my journalism professors discouraged starting an article with a question, so I suspect they would have advised against starting with four. Yet I can’t think of starting an article on a topic chock full of questions any other way. And while we’re at it here’s another one: What on earth is going on?
Certainly not tennis for players who retired from the Family Circle Cup in Charleston this week. What can I say about poor Caroline Wozniacki and that fall in her semifinal match against Vera Zvonareva yesterday that you didn’t see played and replayed on TV a million times? Ouch!
Olga Govortsova retired with a left knee injury and Ayumi Morita and Elena Vesnina with a left adductor strain. Marion Bartoli pulled out with a condition that won’t make us pull out a medical dictionary though it might make us raise an eyebrow – dizziness. Victoria Azarenka, before she flew to Chicago then Rome and tweeted desperately to everyone for a flight to anywhere, pulled out of Charleston with a left hamstring injury she got in Marbella.
Other players also not playing much tennis include those who withdrew before the tournament even began:
- Sybille Bammer (Achilles injury)
- Kateryna Bondarenko (Left knee injury)
- Dominika Cibulkova (Right hip strain)
- Casey Dellacqua (Right foot injury)
- Alisa Kleybanova (Plantar fasciitis)
- Viktoriya Kutuzova (Back injury)
- Sabine Lisicki (Left ankle injury)
- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Foot injury)
- Maria Sharapova (Right elbow injury)
- Serena Williams (Left knee injury)
And the tennis players who are “lucky” enough to play tennis, aren’t lucky enough to do so without bandages. Watching matches at the event for four days I saw only two or three players who weren’t wearing bandages at some point. They could be to aid recovery, prevent injury or just provide “support” – the point is, these days they’re always there. Singles finalist Vera Zvonareva still wears an ankle brace a year after injuring her right ankle in a horrible fall at this tournament last year (though she said yesterday she feels like she’s finally fully recovered); she eventually ended up getting surgery and tumbling out of the Top 20. And the other finalist, Sam Stosur, casually mentioned that she sprained her ankle last week.
Figuring It Out
So what is going on? Well, a few veteran players have some ideas.
Patty Schnyder, who turned pro 16 years ago, pointed to the greater depth of the game: “[The] competition is really tough. The top level maybe it’s the same, but it’s like the density between 10 and 40, 50 that’s really improved a lot in the women’s game. So you don’t get many free rounds and easy rounds to warm up. You really have to be sharp… in the very first match… that takes a lot of energy.”
Nadia Petrova, who turned pro 11 years ago, cited the increase in power and the number of tournaments played: “First of all, the level of game is getting higher. It’s getting more powerful, and you really have to push yourself further in the matches, and that creates some kind of injuries. But then a lot of girls are playing way too many tournaments and they just don’t have enough time to get the body some rest and work on some fitness so they stay stronger.”
Vera Zvonareva, who turned pro 10 years ago, thought scheduling was part of the problem: “The schedule is very tough for players. Right now it’s pretty much the same schedule for everybody, but everyone is different. Everybody has different level of fitness, different bodies, different results, different amount of matches that they played in the previous weeks. So it is very difficult to manage and schedule it. And sometimes you’re forced to play a lot of events when you’re tired, and that’s most of the times when injuries are coming, when your body is not fresh.”
Another possibility may be the length of the off season. Tennis’s off season seems rather short compared to other sports. Surely there are other factors too.
But if something doesn’t change, that can’t be good for these young, young players, fans or the game both love.