“There are mornings when I wake up and feel like I’m 96,” tennis players deal with the pain

Throughout their career, tennis players have to deal with recurring pain that they have to manage in the short and long term.

We can say that we make films from time to time, but there, frankly, it hurts!“, whispered Gaël Monfils mockingly at a press conference on Tuesday May 31, after ejecting Sebastian Baez from the first round of Roland-Garros after an epic fight that ended after midnight on one leg, limping with difficulty between each point. the injury eventually got the better of him. Shot in the left wrist, the Habs went to the end of himself, but he will go no further, forced to forfeit against Holger Rune.

Pain, this permanent enemy

The former 135th player in the world at her best, recalls Alizé Lim. “I’ve played with huge rips before. Once even, I evolved on the pitch with a torn ligament in my foot, all under 35C in the sun.“A case that recalls that of the Serbian Novak Djokovic who won the Australian Open in 2021 with an abdominal tear for the entire fortnight.

The first major of the year has sometimes been the scene of medical miracles. Coordinator of physical training within the French Tennis Federation, Paul Quétin has seen a strange turnaround in 2021 in Melbourne. I remember Gilles Simon at the Australian Open. He hurt his ankle just before the tournament and walks around the players room on crutches. Everyone thinks he’s going to lose and in the second round he beat Marin Cilic in five sets.” 48 hours earlier, the Frenchman had already freed Daniel Brands after 4:32 of play.

I’m with Nicolas Mahut when he plays against John Isner at Wimbledon. On the third day he gets up and cannot move. He comes to practice and he tells me he can’t play. He had incredible abdominal pain. We practiced without serving and when he arrived on the court he served normally for three hours.

Paul Quétin, physical trainer at the FFT

to franceinfo: sports

Currently ranked 426th in the WTA rankings, Marine Partaud sums up the daily life of a top-level tennis player. “We seek our limits every day. Push your body into extreme situations.“To manage pain, the mind is the first ally. In training, due to lack of adrenaline from the match, players push the mind to get used to the pain. “As a physical trainer, I cannot ignore this mental dimension. Sometimes we flirt with overtraining. I remember very long bike rides to create an extremely strenuous effort without injuring them to allow them to push their limits while maintaining control.“explains Paul Quetin.

The man behind the car

But the mind has its limits, as I learned the hard way Marine Partaud. “I had a world championship in Mexico with France so I couldn’t say no and I wanted to play too much, track down the native of Poitiers. I took three months of injury.“Prevention has become vital. Before each training session, no player avoids mobility exercises, massage rollers and other stretches. During matches, the straps are also like a second skin for the most part. Gaël Monfils’ forearms can testify to this.

I remember the Davis Cup in Moscow in 2007. Marat Safin can’t play on Fridays. He comes to visit us and shows us his hands. They were bleeding, he had cracks all over. Russia is roughed up on Sunday. Safin came out of the hat, hands taped all over and played incredible tennis to put three small sets on Paul-Henri Mathieu.

Paul Quétin, physical trainer at the FFT

to franceinfo: sports

But when prevention is no longer enough, pain relievers and anti-inflammatories take over. Sometimes excessively. “Anti-inflammatories are a solution because it makes us grow wings and we tell ourselves that we can go back to playing normally immediately but it can mask the pain“, explains Alizé Lim.

Infiltrations are also used. But since January 2022 the infiltrations of glucocorticoids they are now supervised by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to prevent abuse and are considered TUEauthorizations for therapeutic use.

The question of health

These methods are also not without long-term risks. For a career that will last for the strongest over fifteen years at a professional level, the consequences on the physical level are many. Florent Serra and Thierry Tulasne had hip surgery after their careers. If Andy Murray didn’t wait to undergo the same operation and make an interesting return to the world circuit (he’s now 43rd in the ATP), he had to give up Roland-Garros.

At the moment my foot hurts, I have a piece of cartilage that is gone. I cannot serve for eight months“, blows Alizé Lim. While Marine Partaud, fears the future. “There are mornings when I wake up and feel like I’m 96 years old. I sometimes tell myself that at 50 I might be in a wheelchair because I would have strained my joints.

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