Monday, August 22, 2011

Health is becoming a big issue in today's grueling game of tennis

Professional tennis is spectacular to watch. It requires an iron will, commitments to diet, fitness, unending practice, and it is a constant test of one's emotional, physical, and mental health. Travel all around the world is necessary to be a serious competitor, and the season is grueling with one tournament following the other each and every week. Now perhaps for those lesser players who fall in the early rounds, the toll may not be as draining. But for those constantly in the thick of the Quarters, Semis or Finals, week after week, month after month, the tank is bound to get depleted and the incredible machine we call the body always has the potential to break down as a  result of the constant pounding, stretching, twisting, turning, and running put upon its muscles, bones and cartilage. 

And just how bad has the pro tour gotten with its brutal schedule and overdrive power game that measures shots in miles-per-hour close to 100 and reaction time in split seconds? All we need do is take a look at recent results just in July–August of 2011. In the Rogers Cup tournament played in Montreal, Canada, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired from his semifinal match with Novak Djokovic because of an apparent right arm injury. Mardy Fish, losing to Ernest Gulbis at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles, dropped out of the next tournament, the Washington Classic, citing a heal injury. And Tomas Berdych quit with a shoulder injury after losing the first set of his semi-final against Novak Djokovic in the Cincinnati Open. Novak then went on to retire in the final against Andy Murray  with a sore shoulder issue in the second set. All told, there have been about 500 recorded injuries on the men's tour as of August of 2011. 

These are only the obvious results that affect the playing or completion of a match. When we take into account the burnout and exhaustion seen in the eyes of these players, the game played on the tennis court today creates a very thin line between realistic and unrealistic expectations of players on the ATP tour.

What is driving this madness? Players can, to a certain extent, say "No" to a few tournaments and choose rest instead. But maybe it isn't about fame, titles, or even money. Perhaps it is about fear. Famous jazz legend Louis Armstrong once said that he feared not practicing every single day because there was always someone out there looking to "cut" him or take his place at the top. Are the players so fearful that walking away, even to rest, will make them too stale to compete at their best? Only they know for certain. What we know, the casual and not-so-casual observers, is that injuries and lackluster play continue to pile up. Let's hope we have enough top players healthy enough to compete in this years 2011 U.S. Open.


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