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TENNIS: Why can’t men’s tennis keep its players fit for Grand Slams?

 

When world No 2, Andy Murray succumbed to the pain in his hip, it was just the latest in a series of heavy blows to the US Open.

The three-time Grand Slam champ, who won the 2012 US Open, is not alone in his injury woes as he joined Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic on the sidelines. That is three of the world’s top five and five of the top 11 missing for the final major of the season. At Wimbledon, nine players retired during matches.

Sportsmail asked the experts why men’s tennis is seemingly incapable of keeping its big players fit for the Grand Slams.

The schedule

Many players spend their only month ‘off’ over Christmas in grueling training for next year.

But John McEnroe says this hand wringing over the length of the season is nothing new.

‘We were discussing that when I came up in the late 70s,’ says the seven-time Grand Slam champion.

“The schedule was virtually year round.

“They have worked over the years to get it down to maybe nine or 10 months.

“I think perhaps they would be best served to continue to look at that.”

The tennis season is long and relentless, but McEnroe said that this is nothing new.

Racket technology

Modern racket frames and strings allow players to hit the ball harder, which in turn requires faster movement and quicker changes of direction.

McEnroe says: “Certainly the wear and tear is there, because the ball is being hit harder so you have to react quicker. That’s part of why you’re seeing a lot of injuries.”

Brad Gilbert, former coach of Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Murray, adds: ‘With the polyester strings now, guys are able to hit the ball harder, so maybe that bleeds into some wrist issues that we have had.’

Hard courts

Of the 13 majors and Masters events, eight are on hard courts, rather than the more forgiving clay or grass.

It is all a far cry from Cliff Drysdale’s day, when three majors were played on grass and the fourth on clay.

“The hard courts are a huge issue,’ says the South African, who was a 1965 US Open finalist and former head of the ATP.

“We play best-of-five sets at the US Open on hard courts, and no matter which way you look at it, there are going to be injuries.

“The players do take care of their health more professionally now, but they’re also subjecting themselves to much more serious tensions and pressures to the body than in the past.”

Cliff Drysdale, winner of the 1965 US Open, thinks the amount of hard-court tennis is an issue

Playing too much

For players whose bodies are being relentlessly punished by the demands of the modern game, the obvious answer is simply to play fewer tournaments.

Drysdale says: “Managing your year and how much you play is a huge thing.

“It’s staggering what kind of condition that you have to be in, and there is really no way that you can survive a 20-plus-year career running around the tennis court 11 months a year and not come up with injuries.”

But former US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe makes the point that few are in the privileged position of being able to skip tournaments.

“Maybe 90, 95 per cent of the players in the US Open main draw need to play as much as they can to make a living. If you don’t play, you don’t make money, period, end of story.”

 

WORLD’S TOP 10

  1. Rafa Nadal
  2. Andy Murray (out with hip injury)
  3. Roger Federer (doubt with back injury)
  4. Stan Wawrinka (out with knee injury)
  5. Novak Djokovic (out with elbow injury)
  6. Alex Zverev
  7. Marin Cilic (doubt with abductor injury)
  8. Dominic Thiem
  9. Grigor Dimitrov
  10. Kei Nishikori (out with wrist injury)

 

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