Age and Injuries: The Demands of Professional Tennis
David Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
One can only imagine the demands on the modern professional tennis player. The stress to player's today can't possibly match the demands placed on players in decades past. Watch any classic or vintage tennis match on television. The difference between today's tennis and that of say, thirty years ago, is like the difference between watching race cars from the 40's or 50's compared to today's Formula One races!
From left: Billie Jean King, Nancy Richey, Evonne Goolagong. Players from the past possessed great talent, however the game looked and was played quite differently back then.
That is not to say that players from generations past didn't possess comparable talent or potential. But, just as we see in technology, in sports future generations improve upon those of the past. We often call it ‘pushing the envelope.' What was once unheard of, is now reality. And this is even more so true in the world of tennis.
It has been interesting to grow up watching and playing tennis during the past thirty years. Women's tennis in the 70's was ‘moonballs' and lithe, graceful movements punctuated by long rallies and cute, conservative tennis dresses. The same era of men's tennis was just ushering topspin as a weapon and rallies that included as much finesse as relative power.
Today, the game has evolved. It wasn't but ten years ago that the masses were screaming for longer points and a return to wooden racquets. In general, spectators wanted strategies that didn't consist of big serves and few answers.
As players saw more big serves, the return game rose to meet the challenge.
I wrote a piece about eight years ago, a response to a frustrated tennis fan, who had written that the game of the day lacked suspense; it was a lopsided serve-fest that consisted of few rallies lasting longer than three shots. And, he was right. Especially when watching Wimbledon. The faster the service, the shorter the service game and ensuing rallies.
My editorial was basically a ‘wait and see' approach to how I saw the game in its evolutionary paces unfold. My belief was that as players see more big serves, the return game would rise and meet the challenge. It only made sense that as one part of the game dominates, other areas of the game will grow to answer the challenge.
Today, while serve speeds among top players average well above that which was once considered not only rare, but impossible, the serve return has now caught up and neutralized the serve somewhat. While it is not common to see service breaks among the pros, the return has now reached a point where the point is determined later in the rally.
And this brings me back to the point I started with: Injury and stress among top players.
Because the angular momentum needed to generate the kind of power, not just on serves, but now on the ground game—where players commonly exchange a dozen rapid-fire, pinpoint accurate bombs, the players expose themselves to much more impact stress and strains that result in far more injuries than we saw in decades past. I do believe that through more intensive training, conditioning and strength development, the game could evolve further to the point that players will respond to such stresses with less likelihood of injury.
Much more angular momentum is needed to generate the kind of power players in the modern era possess.
However, the human body, short of some genetic mutation, is subject to human frailties. The bones, tendons, cartilage and ligaments don't respond to training the way muscles do. While we can develop our musculature through training, these connective tissues and support structures are not dynamic in their development in a similar fashion.
While an Agassi or a Navratalova might make one think that longevity in our sport is possible, it must be understood that such examples are uncommon. In the seventies, an Evert, Laver, Wade, Rosewall, King, or Goolagong easily competed well into their thirties. However, today there are fewer and fewer examples of such players. It isn't rare to have players retire in their mid to later twenties!
When watching the U.S. Open these next two weeks, I think it is safe to say that we are watching many of the finest athletes on the face of the earth. The conditioning, strength, and hand-eye coordination, necessary to hit rockets—and run down and return such rockets with rockets of their own—requires the whole package, no exceptions.
It will be interesting to see what evolutionary trends will next surface in tennis. In the meantime, I believe the quality and sheer athleticism of those left standing should encourage us to stand ourselves and applaud such Herculean efforts.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's book, Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
Speed Merchants or the First Strike
First strike tennis or consistent retriever - watch any match on TV and you'll see players try to exploit the physical skills they possess and mask their deficiencies. Lindsay Davenport uses a big serve and booming groundstrokes to dominate points, Lleyton Hewitt uses speed and consistency to wear down opponents. It's the same at the club level - what game do you play? Jim Mclennan
Routinely, when players practice tennis, the thought is to hit balls over and over to the same spot until the player can hit near the target with regularity. While this has value, players should look at other practice procedures to ‘round out’ their playing abilities and improve their overall tennis skills. Dave Smith offers some other ideas to consider when you head out to the practice court.
Rod Cross offers an interesting take on the evolution of tennis. The modern game is played at a furious pace compared with the old days. To be sure, the players are stronger and the racquets better but surprisingly enough, the rapid acceleration of the game may have been caused by something as small as one inch!
ProStrokes Gallery: Tommy Haas - Returns
This world class German player turned pro in 1996 has amassed seven singles titles and over $6 million dollars in prize money. A Nick Bollitieri protégé, Tommy Haas epitomizes the big backcourt game, with punishing forehands, fluid topspin backhands, and excellent court movement. After missing all of the previous year with a rotator cuff injury, Tommy is back full time in the hunt for titles, points, and prize money. This Issue we feature Tommy's service returns.
Virtual Tennis Academy
Current professional tour coach, Heath Waters and wife, top 100 and former no. 33 in the world ranked tour player, Lindsay Lee-Waters, are proud to release the first predominantly all streaming video based e-learning tennis instructional website at www.virtualtennisacademy.com
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Jeff Greenwald - Fearless Tennis
Feel you're playing tentatively and know that you have greater potential than you're demonstrating in tournaments? This one of a kind, double- CD audio program, FearlessTennnis: The 5 Mental Keys To Unlocking Your Potential, will help you compete with confidence, close out matches and is a great way to get the mental edge en route to a tournament.
Schedule Jeff Greenwald to Speak
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