And the injuries, believed now to be in record numbers, kept piling up at the U.S. Open on Thursday.
That’s now 14 players who have quit in mid-match or pulled out of the tournament before going on court because of injury or illness.
Is it just bad luck or is this a trend which needs some serious attention from professional tennis?
“Out of the 14 players, 11 have musculo-skeletal problems, and all appear to be because of overload,” said Dr. Ben Kibler, who is one of the world’s leading authorities on tennis-related injuries and who is in New York for tennis conferences this weekend.
“It may be just a bad year,” said Kibler, “but it bears investigating. I will bring it up at our sports medicine meeting this Sunday.”
On Day 4 of the Open, with 11 players already sidelined, Petra Cetkovska handed a walkover to Ana Ivanovic because of a quadriceps injury, Radek Stepanek retired against Juan Monaco with a shoulder injury and Robin Soderling pulled out of the tournament without hitting a ball, citing wrist and viral problems.
The ITF would have to go through every drawsheet in the history of the U.S. Open to determine if 14 pull-outs is a record, and that’s quite a job. I went back 10 years and it has never come close to being this bad. In fact, this is the worst injury/illness situation since 10 players withdrew or retired in 1998. Most think it is indeed a record.
Clearly, the injury problem affects men more than women. Over the last 10 years, there have been 50 men who have quit the tournament with injuries or illness and only 16 women, though this year the numbers are eight men and six women.
Men hit ground strokes with more power, serve more explosively and play best-of-five sets at the Open while the women play best-of-three. That’s the main reason why men account for most of the injuries.
But this year appears to be an anomaly for women, who three times in the last 10 years had no players retiring from injuries or illness — in 2007, 2006 and 2002.
While this just may be “a bad year,” as Kibler put it, it doesn’t come as a surprise to him. It was only a few days ago that Kibler talked at length with worldtennismagazine.com about the link between the U.S. hardcourt season, including the Open, and shoulder injuries in particular.
He pointed out that we’re now in the ninth month of a season which, despite recent schedule cutbacks, is still overly long. Overhead strokes, like serves, leave players particularly vulnerable at this time of year.
Kibler pointed out that while serving slows down during the clay court season because aces are difficult to come by and, thus, service placement becomes more important than speed, when the players get onto the faster hardcourts in the United States they start bombing big serves again.
Here’s the list of pull-outs and retirees thus far with their final round in parentheses:
* Kei Nishikori (1), lower back, retired to Flavio Cipolla.
* Conor Niland (1), illness on court. retired to Novak Djokovic.
* Frank Dancevic (1), hamstring injury, retired to Marsel Ilhan.
* Marinko Matosevic (1), ankle injury, retired to Juan Ignacio Chela.
* Misaki Doi (1), thigh injury, retired to Laura Pous-Tio.
* Julie Hampton (1), cramps, retired to Elena Baltacha.
* Ayumi Morita (1), shoulder injury, retired to Laura Robson.
* Louk Sorensen (1), cramps, retired to Rogeria Dutra da Silva.
* Karol Beck (1), shoulder injury, retired to Diego Junqueira.
* Radek Stepanek (2), shoulder injury, retired to Juan Monaco.
* Petra Cetkovska (2), quadriceps injury, gave a walkover to Ana Ivanovic.
* Venus Williams (2), breathing difficulty, gave a walkover to Sabine Lisicki.
* Yanina Wickmayer (2), back injury, retired to Alla Kudryavtseva.
* Robin Soderling, illness and wrist, quit tournament before playing, giving his spot to lucky loser da Silva.
Year by year, here’s the litany of pull-outs:
* 2010: Six men, three women.
* 2009: Four men, one woman.
* 2008: Five men, one woman.
* 2007: Four men, no women.
* 2006: One man (Nicolas Mahut), no women.
* 2005: Four men, three women.
* 2004: Six men, one woman.
* 2003: four men, one woman.
* 2002: Eight men, no women.
In 1998, with eight players quitting in the first round and 10 for the tournament, that was considered devastating. Now, here we are in 2011 with already 14 gone. Dr. Kibler is right. There’s no clear trend here, but the injury situation needs a closer look.