Common Tennis Injuries and the Pros Who’ve Battled Them
Yeah, we know, tennis ‘aint rugby, but as far as non-contact sports go, the wear and tear on the body during a match is brutal. Changing directions, sprinting, impact. The quick, dynamic moves required on the court can put serious strain on the body, particularly for pro players, who spend more time on the court during a week than you do in a season. We decided to look at common tennis injuries faced by the pros and see what kind of tips we could pick up for the average player.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing here is meant to resemble anything close to medical advice.
Who’s had them: Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal.
Del Potro’s struggles with wrist injury are famously heart-wrenching. After winning a shocker of a U.S. Open title in 2009, the Argentine crashed back to earth in 2010 after a serious wrist injury that prompted three surgeries and caused him to spend years in the wilderness, away from the game, before a 2016 comeback season that brought tears to the eye of any true sports fan. But all was not well for fans of Spanish speaking tennis players. Just as del Potro was climbing back into headlines, Rafael Nadal ended his season early because of wrist concerns.
The lesson: Wrist injuries are chiefly the result of overuse or poor technique and, as Del Po and Rafa’s experience suggest, they can be very serious. Wrist injuries are best treated by rest, physical therapy, and when warranted, a change in technique. Had Juan Martin tried to come back sooner than he did, he very likely could have re-injured his wrist and potentially ended his career. Nadal, realizing the risks that come from playing through a nagging wrist injury, wisely decided to call it a season and rest and rehab until he felt prepared for 2017. The lesson? Don’t be a hero.
Who’s had them: Milos Raonic, CoCo Vandeweghe
More than just one of the most common tennis injuries, ankle injuries are prevalent across nearly all sports. The majority of ankle sprains are mild and the result of falling or landing awkwardly during a match. Raonic suffered an ankle injury during the Beijing tournament in 2016, and Vandeweghe injured her right ankle during this year’s Bank of the West Classic. In both cases, the sprains didn’t provide any serious setbacks to the players.
The lesson: Most players bounce back from minor ankle sprains with a combination of early RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) followed by physiotherapy to regain range of motion. Vandeweghe’s recovery included pool workouts and a stationary bike. Really worried about ankle injuries? Look to Andy Murray’s ever-present ankle braces for inspiration.
Who’s had them: Roger Federer, Victoria Azarenka
Both the GOAT’s and Azarenka’s 2016 seasons were rocked by knee injuries. In the case of Azarenka, she withdrew early from Roland Garros and opted out of Wimbledon to recover. Though knee injuries are nothing new to her, Roger’s storybook career had, until 2016, been notable for its lack of serious injuries. His torn meniscus early in the year led to time off, halted comebacks and ultimately an early end to the season.
The lesson: Take time off and be sure you’re ready to come back before getting back onto the court. With the benefit of hindsight, Roger’s return to play in May after knee surgery in February may have been premature. Had he spent more time on rehab and tried to come back for Wimbledon instead of the French open, he may have been better prepared to last out the season. Certainly no one can know for sure, but the lesson here is to err on the side of caution and spend more time on rest and rehab than you may think necessary.
Who’s had them: Marin Cilic, Serena Williams
Cilic missed time in 2015 because of inflammation in his shoulder, and Serena ended her 2016 season early due to shoulder issues. The repetitive nature of tennis can greatly wear on shoulder joints, muscle and cartilage, and a minor shoulder injury can turn nagging.
The lesson: This one is a bit of a red herring. Though one of the most common tennis injuries in both pro and club players, the causes typically differ for each. Professional players with injured soldiers can most often blame overuse. In club players, the culprit is likely to be muscle weakness or imbalance, and the best cure is to strengthen the shoulder muscles.
Who’s had them: Roger Federer, Richard Gasquet
Both Federer and Gasquet made headlines with back injuries in 2016, with Gasquet withdrawing from the Australian Open at the start of the year and Federer withdrawing from the Madrid Open early in the clay court season.
The lesson: In both cases they withdrew before the tournament started. A back injury can turn from inconvenient to agonizing real quick, and the trick is to not push yourself when back pain is coming on. Of course, the best medicine is prevention, and for the back it comes down to improving core strength and stability and increasing flexibility.
Who’s had it: Trick question. One of the most common tennis injuries for the club player, you’ll almost never see a pro come down with tennis elbow. The root cause of the injury is poor technique and weakness. Pros have better technique than you, are stronger than you, and play relaxed and loose. Figure the lesson out for yourself.