The path back from an injury usually triggers these terms: pain, rehab, return. Clad in hospital gowns, hobbling on crutches, gingerly stepping onto the court, a grinning athlete’s steps back to health are often posted on social media, a medical flipbook of sorts. But as the recent journeys of popular Grand Slam champions Bianca Andreescu, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro demonstrate, our current world situation warrants new words for recovery and desired return: contemplation, perspective, empathy—with Zoom and FaceTime also in the mix.
Last October, at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, recently crowned US Open champion Andreescu suffered a left knee injury that forced her to withdraw mid-tournament and kept her off the tour in January and February. In early March, Andreescu flew to Indian Wells, keen to at last start the year and defend her 2019 BNP Paribas Open title. But at the last minute, she pulled out. The next day, the tournament announced its cancellation. Andreescu returned to Canada and is currently at home with her parents.
Over the last month, Andreescu has drawn on a major resource she’d also cited last year as she made her way up the ranks: meditation.
“That’s how I stay as grounded as possible,” Andreescu recently said on Canadian TV station CTV, “and as positive as I can, because it helps me stay in the present moment, and it helps me stay in touch with my mind and body.”
As far as tennis goes, Andreescu’s coach, Sylvain Bruneau, has noted how Canadian laws make it impossible to hit balls.
“We don’t really know how it will all end,” Bruneau was quoted in a recent TennisWorld story. “I imagine that we will have a little time before the resumption of activities to allow the athletes to prepare well. . . . when it is time to find your feelings on a tennis court, it should not be very complicated with players of this level.”
Bruneau and Andreescu, at last year's WTA Finals. (Getty Images)
In the meantime, Andreescu has a full range of exercise equipment at her home. But her time is also occupied in other ways. Making music, connecting with friends on FaceTime, urging youngsters to stay inside—these are the activities Andreescu places a premium on.
“Just be as compassionate as you can,” she said. “I know it’s not easy in a time like this, but it just shows us how we’re all connected, because if something affects someone it eventually affects another person.”
Murray, recently recovering from a pelvic injury, had given strong thought to commencing his 2020 campaign in Miami. Recall that 15 months ago, prior to the 2019 Australian Open, a hip injury made the three-time Grand Slam champion’s retirement appear likely. But surgery in January 2019 and an extensive rehab effort brought Murray back, at least to doubles and smaller events.
As word of the cancelled grass-court season came down, Murray took to Facebook: “Very sad that the Fever-Tree Championships and Wimbledon have been cancelled this year but with all that is going on in the world right now, everyone's health is definitely the most important thing!”
Speaking on ATP Tennis Radio, Murray’s coach, Jamie Delgado, said, “Here in London, all the clubs and courts are closed, so it’s difficult to hit balls. Andy doesn’t have a court at home. [But] it’s important to have a racquet in your hand, even if it’s hitting against a wall. Rolling over some serves, particularly as injuries and niggles can arise if you haven’t played for a while.”
Murray, at the 2019 Davis Cup. (Getty Images)
From Canada and Great Britain, it’s off to Argentina, where Juan Martin del Potro is recovering from yet another in his frustrating stream of operations; in this case, right-knee surgery that took place on January 27. This was the Argentine’s second operation on that knee in the last year, the prior one taking place June 22, shortly after her aggravated it while playing at the pre-Wimbledon event held at The Queen’s Club.
On April 4, del Potro held a live chat.
“It is very important that we all look after each other,” he said. “Self-quarantine, follow the instructions of specialists, be empathetic and be responsible. It is a special, unique moment that needs everyone. I would like to send a big hug to the doctors and health professionals during this difficult time."
Also posting recently on Instagram, Del Potro said that he’d recently had a chance to watch one of his finest moments, his 2009 US Open final, a five-set triumph over Roger Federer.
“[It’s] 11 years later and I’m still nervous,” he said.
Del Potro, after defeating Federer in the 2009 US Open final. (Getty Images)
Typically, those recovering from injuries fret about losing ground on tennis’ never-ending, fast-paced highway of ranking points and financial rewards. But now, the entire sport has been put on hold, in ways no one could have imagined as recently as six weeks ago. Perhaps, though, the silver lining amid this crisis is perspective, wisdom, empathy and appreciation, as thoughtfully expressed by these three players.
“I choose to have a growth mindset,” said Andreescu. “I ask myself a bunch of questions. ‘What can I do during this time to be of help? What can I do for myself? What are things that I can learn that maybe I don’t know?’”
Once tennis returns, it will be intriguing to see how gratitude is balanced with the demands of competition. Dare any player get too angry mid-match or upon losing? What kind of tolerance will there be for a world-weary lament? And pressure? Indeed, per Billie Jean King’s trademark saying—a privilege.