With all the no-shows and losses due to injury at the French Open, the game was
looking as hazardous as a contact sport
may not have played a point of tennis at the French Open last week, but he
spent as much time on the red clay as any player did. Novotny, a trainer for
the ATP Tour, shuttled from court to court, tending to heads, shoulders, knees
and toes--and just about every bone, muscle and ligament in between. When Roger
Federer, the men's top seed, said he hoped to be "the last man
standing," he might have been speaking literally.
devolved into the sort of hazardous workplace that merits an OSHA
investigation. This year in Paris the nonstarters due to injury included six
past champions: Andre Agassi (back), Gustavo Kuerten (hip), Jennifer Capriati
(shoulder), Mary Pierce (groin), Serena Williams (knee) and Monica Seles
(foot). And many players who competed did so in less than optimal health. Fifth
seed Andy Roddick retired in his first-round match with a sore left ankle.
Women's third seed Nadia Petrova was slowed by a thigh pull and lost her
first-round match. Time and again, interview sessions resembled mealtime at a
retirement community, each conversation dwelling on aches and pains.
Befitting a sport
that's congenitally incapable of consensus, the explanations for the raft of
injuries are manifold. Lightweight rackets and high-tech strings encourage
players to overhit and put more stress on their bodies. The depth of tournament
fields eliminates the early-round cakewalks enjoyed by top players of past
eras. The tournament calendar is grueling, but many players fill their short
off-season with lucrative exhibitions. Finally, players overtrain, and when
they try to play through pain in one part of their bodies, they put too much
pressure on other parts (so a knee injury morphs into a thigh injury). "The
body is like a chain--one thing will react to the other," says Maria
Sharapova, whose right-ankle injury kept her from playing any clay court
reasons for these physical breakdowns, few of the sport's gatekeepers seem
concerned. A suggestion to eliminate the men's best-of-five-sets matches during
the first week of Grand Slam events has fallen on deaf ears. (Never mind that
59 of the 64 first-round matches in Paris would have had the same outcome if
played under the best-of-three format.) Though both tours have announced plans
to shorten the season, top players will be expected to enter the same number of
events. And the very agents who blow a gasket over late-arriving courtesy cars
are, curiously, less outraged by an injury epidemic that might ravage their
clients' seasons--and their earning potential.
The players are
not so cavalier about this trend. As Roddick assessed his health in the
interview room after his loss, he was the picture of despondency. "It would
be tough to feel sorry for myself when I've seen guys blow shoulders and knees
out, miss a year at a time," he admitted. "That being said, this is not
fun at all."
Get Out of My Limelight, Bro
Anne and Janet Jackson, Dinara Safina spent her formative years obscured by a
famous big brother. When Marat Safin beat Pete Sampras to win the 2000 U.S.
Open, Dinara was a 14-year-old junior player. Later, as fans flocked to watch
the likable, erratic Marat--who is capable of both spectacular and
spectacularly awful tennis--Dinara struggled to find traction on the WTA tour.
"She needs to have a character, and she needs to be a little bit of a
grown-up woman," Marat memorably said last year. "With all respect,
[when I was her age] I had been Number 1 in the world."
Perhaps now it's
sis's turn to dispense career advice. As Marat crashed out in the first round
in Paris, Dinara looked sharp, relying on heavy, pace-laced strokes to upset
the fourth-seeded Sharapova and advance to the quarterfinals. Having reached
the final of the Rome event last month, Safina entered Paris with a career-high
ranking of No. 16. "I wanted to prove that I can also play tennis," she
told reporters last week, obliquely referring to her big sib. "I was
sometimes trying to do too much. But then I relax. I am what I am. I am
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