Wrists at risk as elite stars focus on brawn

LONDON • Tennis is increasingly becoming more a game of power and less one of finesse. Under the force exerted by players who are physically stronger and better conditioned than those of decades past, wrist tendons are the first point of defence in the human body. Add in the advances in racket and string technology and the wrist is put under even more strain.

This is why wrist injuries are the most prevalent of all ailments in top-flight tennis, forcing two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal out of this year's tournament.

While his rivals put the finishing touches to their Wimbledon preparations, he is back in Majorca, resting the damaged left wrist that forced him to retire from the French Open.

Of course, the Spaniard is not alone in suffering wrist problems. Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro has only just returned to the sport and hopes to play regularly after four separate operations, one to his right wrist and three to his left that is put under strain by his use of the double-fisted backhand.

"I was close to quitting tennis," admitted the Argentinian, who once ranked fourth in the world.

The 27-year-old del Potro had his operations at Minnesota's revered Mayo Clinic at the hands of Dr Richard Berger, who also performed the operation on Britain's Laura Robson.

The former Wimbledon junior champion has effectively had her career blighted since first suffering wrist issues just a month or so after reaching the last 16 at the All England Club in 2013.

Dr Berger said: "Tennis is one of those sports that, honestly, the wrist is one of the structures at most risk because the force of contact with the ball is transmitted directly through the wrist and, very often, with an element of torque as the player attempts to place higher and higher degrees of spin on the ball."

According to him, the players who are most at risk of injury are those playing predominantly from the baseline, employing powerful ground strokes often dispatched with attached spin.

Nadal fits this category. Hopes remain that he will return for the Rio Olympics, where tennis begins on Aug 6.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'Wrists at risk as elite stars focus on brawn'. Print Edition | Subscribe