Here’s one sight no one who loves tennis wants to see.
Juan Martin del Potro lying on the court, grimacing in pain, grabbing his wrist.
A veteran of four wrist surgeries and two frustrating, long comebacks, the Argentine found himself in that position in the third set of his quarterfinal in Shanghai against Viktor Troicki Friday.
He got up and resumed the match after about a five-minute pause – and won it. But he’s uncertain for Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Roger Federer.
It was an innocuous-looking moment as del Potro backed up to hit a forehand – a move he makes 100 times in a match – and stumbled as his left ankle rolled slightly.
He fell – gently, it seemed, considering his height and size.
But he landed on his left hand and wrist. And he immediately grabbed it. He indicated later to the physio that it was the inside of the wrist that had taken the brunt.
“I don’t know how is my wrist after I fell down. I feel something wrong in that moment. But I continued to play, just playing slices, just to try to finish the match. But now it’s time to see what the MRI and what the doctor says. I’m a little worried, but I know (how) to deal with all these things,” del Potro said immediately after the 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory. “I’ve been through in the past. I will see what the doctor says … Of course, I would like to play, I would like to be 100 per cent. But he will see in the moment what happens.”
Later, del Potro’s media-relations rep Jorge Viale said that del Potro left the hospital with the wrist in a splint. On the positive side, Viale indicated that anything more serious than a bruise had been ruled out.
Del Potro will decide Saturday morning whether he can make the date with Federer, scheduled for 8 p.m., Shanghai time.
Three surgeries on the left wrist
The first surgery del Potro underwent came on March, 2010, on the right wrist. That was a tough-enough comeback. But he had three more between March, 2014 and June 2015.
This time, they were all on the left wrist, which was the one he injured Friday. The comeback featured del Potro hitting mostly slice backhands. But still, he had been able to win a lot of matches. And as things progressed, his two-handed backhand was slowly getting closer to what it had been before all the surgeries.
The 29-year-old has been rounding into form at this late stage of the season. In fact, with his effort in Shanghai thus far, del Potro will return to the top 20 in the ATP Tour rankings for the first time in almost exactly three years when the new rankings come out next Monday.
As part of the launching of the 2018 Australian Open Tuesday, tournament director Craig Tiley announced that the top 100 men and women will be in Melbourne for next year’s event.
It sounds good. But of course there’s no way he can guarantee that.
Certainly all of the top male players Tiley mentioned – Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori – have announced that they expect to be back and raring to go in 2018. All of them have cutt short their 2017 seasons due to injury.
But there’s no way to know.
Nevertheless, so many of the headlines Tuesday “confirmed” Serena Williams’ return after maternity leave at the first Grand Slam of the 2018 season.
(That’s the Independent, which may think Williams will give birth only in mid-October, given the Australian Open starts Jan. 15)
That’s the Melbourne Age, which quotes Tiley thusly:
“Her baby’s initials are AO (Alexis Ohanian) and she’s suggested she should also have her name on the 2017 trophy, so the AO is well and truly top of mind for her at the moment,” Tiley said.
Well, Williams didn’t actually do that. The Australian Open tournament Twitter did that.
“If anyone can do it, she can and I’m certainly not counting her out of a return come January,” Tiley added.
That sounds more reasonable.
Sort of, kind of, hope so, maybe!
Tiley never specifically confirmed Williams would play. But he didn’t unsay it, either.
“I’ve been in contact with all the top players and am pleased to announce we’ll have the full top 100 men and women returning to the Australian Open in January,” Tiley said. “It’s exciting to think Serena could return to defend her title after motherhood, and it’s also exciting to speculate on who can break through the pack to win.”
“Serena, the competitor that she is, she wants to win more than the 23 Grand Slam titles that she has. She was eight weeks pregnant when she played the Australian Open and very few people knew that,” he also said. “We have a special relationship with Serena, the Williams family, both her and Venus. She wants to come back in 2018 and defend her title. Obviously, at training now, there is several months to go and it will be up to her as far as where she is with her fitness.”
Before she gave birth, Serena Williams said – and coach Patrick Mouratoglou confirmed – that her intention was to return in Australia, just 4 1/2 months after giving birth.
Since then, as she enjoys the first months of Alexis Olympia Ohanian’s life, Williams hasn’t said anything one way or the other. Certainly Williams hasn’t posted anything on social media indicating she has returned to training.
But she did say that she spent six days in the hospital after the birth, which was probably unexpected.
The latest word from Serena to her fans doesn’t mention the Australian Open.
Today I bought my first bag of diapers. I felt so grown picking out the bag. I may have even looked around hoping someone saw me. Haha
You’d think, if she had already decided, that she’d have considered the Hopman Cup. It’s a relaxed, non-tournament, low-key way to ease back into the game – much like Roger Federer used it last January to return after a six-month absence.
So we’ll just have to wait until Williams is spotted somewhere Down Under in January to be certain.
Or, at least, wait for the lady herself to weigh in. She may also change her mind a few times between now and then – mother’s prerogative, you know.
The tennis world has undergone a revolution over the last generation.
The players are bigger, fitter, and stronger. The rackets are lighter, yet more powerful. The string industry has taken technology to previously unimaginable levels. Sports drinks have hydration down to a science. Fitness and recovery regimes are high-tech and have extended numerous careers.
So why do so many players – from the recreational hacker to the top professionals – take the court wearing elastic bandages that date back to the sport’s amateur days?
Old technology still persists
You see it at your local club: the stretched-out, old elastic bandage, or the blue sleeve picked up for a few bucks at the local pharmacy.
Even on the professional tours, you see tape job after tape job: knees, and calves and wrists and, so often these days, thighs and hamstrings.
The technology has progressed tremendously, but it seems old habits die hard.
“After playing tennis for a number of years, and coaching and working with some of the pros, I felt that the gear out there was inadequate – barely functional at all. People would put it on and take it off and throw it in their closets. So I decided to do something about it,” Body Helix founder Fred Robinson says.
Designed by a champion, for champions
Robinson himself was a perfect test case. Now 63, the left-hander has won numerous national championships in the seniors divisions. And he has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world.
He put together a long checklist of what he needed the compression to do. And then he began searching for materials that would do the job.
“As we developed the products, we would field-test them out on the tennis court. So it was more than just designing them on a CAD system or a 3D printer. We put them on and tested them,” he said. “I have plenty of friends who are professionals, who were beat up – we all are. Knee issues, ankle issues, back issues, tendonitis in the arm. We had all of the injuries covered.
“I would pick out two or three of my friends. They would wear them not just for the day, but for weeks – sweating in them, washing them. The products were thoroughly tested. And once we got to that point, that’s when Dr. Tom Parker came in with his medical background.”
The “C” in R.I.C.E is the key
The RICE protocol for treating injuries – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation – has been around since the 1960s.
“It has continued to be the standard of care for acute injuries. People are going to play sports. And they will do anything they can to minimize their pain while they’re playing. Compression frequently will do that,” Dr. Parker, a tennis player himself, says. “And Body Helix has the most comfortable compression in the industry.”
Body Helix provides medical-grade compression in the range of 20-30 millimeters of mercury. The higher the number, the more pressure we feel. Twenty to 30 mmHg is the first range of medical grade compression. And scientific evidence documents increased blood flow and the benefits.
The concept of compression is, by definition, a delicate balance.
If the compression is too tight, it restricts movement. And then the athlete will be forced to use abnormal motions to compensate. That can lead to injuries in other areas; he or she is using muscles that weren’t trained to move that way.
But if it’s too loose, the compression element is moot.
Long the standard, the reality is that neoprene only stretches 50 to 80 percent. The wide range of Body Helix products for arms, knees, legs and backs stretch up to 330 percent.
The company says that’s more than any other compression product on the market.
Body Helix tops the stretch charts
The Body Helix products combine that stretch level with maximum strain. They pull back against the muscle. This superior elasticity means the snapback capabilities are one of a kind.
“Let’s say a player has tennis elbow. If the material doesn’t stretch they have to change their service motion,” Robinson says.
“Our material gives a uniform compression. It allows the player to serve with the same motion, which we feel is very important. It can outstretch any position you can bend,” he adds.
Not only do the stretch and strain properties create optimal compression, they help the products stay in place. They don’t slip. The sleeves use the heat/sweat from your body and allow the fabric to act like an adherent between your skin and the product.
Harder, faster, stronger
With their high-tech rackets, the players are hitting the ball harder than ever. And that means they have to move faster than they ever have before.
“The beauty of tennis has not changed during the past 10 years. Genetically, we haven’t changed that much in 10 years. But we’re drawing bigger and stronger athletes to the game. The speed at which the ball is being hit and the spin that’s being put on it are creating sharper angles. The players have to run way outside the court in a way they never did prior to the polyester strings. You have less time to get to the ball, and further to run to get to it,” Robinson said. “That’s not going to change. We’re going to have more powerful strings, more powerful racquets. Technology is making the game even faster.”
Stay on the court longer, and better
Body Helix’s technology is an antidote to the demands placed on tennis players these days. And it’s not just the pros; the same applies to recreational and competitive players.
Most will tell you they hit the ball harder than they did 10 or 20 years ago. And their opponents do, as well. But they’re not getting any younger. They need all the help they can get to keep playing to a ripe old age.
You see it everywhere on the ATP and WTA tours these days.
Upper legs and thighs, and knees, and wrists, taped in ever-increasing numbers. You see some players taped up, tournament after tournament, for months on end.
But the traditional elastic bandage, once it’s applied, cannot maintain the compression level for very long.
“Angelique Kerber, a top women’s player, has a hamstring problem. They’ll put an elastic bandage on her, which is sub-par. You can get those at CVS. So you ask yourself, ‘Why is the No. 1 player in the world still wearing something that’s 100-year old technology?’ She’s not playing with a wooden racquet any more,” Robinson says. “I would ask her, ‘Why are you wearing an antique bandage on your leg?
No time limit on effectiveness
Dr. Erin Boynton, an orthopaedic surgeon who has worked with major-league sports teams and tennis players and who is a highly ranked player herself on the seniors circuit, says the leg tape has only a brief shelf life.
“You look at the girls on the WTA Tour – and I’ve worked with a lot of them. They like to tape the thigh. And I think a message that the athletes need to understand is that when you tape the thigh, and you try and unload a part of the muscle, that tape will only be effective for about five minutes,” Dr. Boynton says.
“They have a routine. It becomes a ritual. And it’s worked for them. Their mind is relaxed. They feel good about it.
“So, I think that we have to slowly introduce the product, or the concept and let the girls gain confidence in it. It’s hard to get people to change their routines,” she says.
Robinson says that with the Body Helix wrap, “your leg is going to feel like it’s spring-loaded from the time you walk on the court, until the time you walk off the court.”
Easy maintenance, no mess
Another thing you’ll see from club players – they know who they are – is that they’ll stuff their bandages and neoprene wraps into their tennis bags once they’re done playing.
The next time they see them is next time they play.
The wraps are open-cell construction, which means they soak up sweat like a sponge. They take forever to dry. And they trap a lot of bacteria. That’s a fairly deadly combination on several levels.
Body Helix wraps don’t hold sweat or water because they are closed cell. You can throw them in the washing machine every time you wear them, eliminating any issues with odor or bacteria.
They’re latex- and petroleum-free, and environmentally friendly.
Given all the benefits, the Body Helix wraps are affordable, too. Most run between $30-$50. (The shoulder and back wraps, which are substantially bigger, run a little more).
When you consider a tennis player spends that on a single racket restring, more than that on a pair of shorts or three or four times as much on a pair of shoes (and often have multiple pairs), it’s a bargain.
“Anyone who is playing tennis can afford $10-$15 more for a product that works. I think people want to have the best equipment when they get injured. They simply don’t know what it is,” Robinson said. “Our challenge is to show them Body Helix products are the highest quality they can buy.”