Monthly Archives: March 2009

Are Tennis Players Pushing Their Bodies Too Hard?

Andy Murray is lying in bed instead of playing tennis at the moment. Did he push himself too far too soon?

Tennis Diary writer Pat Davis sent me some info today about an old folks home for elder gays and lesbians in a neighborhood about 10 minutes away from where I live in Hollywood. Maybe she thinks it’s time I look into such housing – not sure, but I was thinking that we’ll soon be ready for a retirement home for tennis players because some players are running themselves into the ground.

Lexa Lee – yet another Tennis Diary writer – brought the subject up last week and I agree with her: Andy Murray’s current virus problems are likely caused by overtraining.

Men's Tennis Championship in Dubai

When Murray talked about his training regimen in Florida over the break last December, it sounded brutal to me and it was all the more brutal because it meant he had no off-season to speak of. He probably had a few breaks in-season when he was injured, but if you think about it, when you’re injured your body is on fulltime healing duty so that doesn’t qualify as rest.

Murray knew his conditioning was suspect and he did something about it. He ran around cones and lifted weights to the point where you can actually see a six-pack and some guns on what used to be a pretty pasty body. And he let us know all about it by flexing those biceps after coming back from two sets down to beat Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon last year, which was, after all, the main reason he put himself through all that grief: to win five set matches and get closer to winning a slam.

But it looks like he did it too fast and “too fast” seems to be a common condition in the careers of young tennis players these days if not the world in general. We weren’t designed for 24/7 Blackberry tapping and 10 months a year of international travel. We were designed to go out and hunt for a food in the morning, make a few corn patties in the afternoon, and go to bed at dusk.

No matter, those days are long gone. Players now get financial support at a young age and they’re expected to win a slam as early as possible. Murray has been getting financial support from the Royal Bank of Scotland since he was 13 years old and I only know that because some Brits are asking him to give some of it back since RBS lost $35 billion last year.

All those Brits were expecting a grand slam title for Murray at the Australian Open this year especially as Novak Djokovic was screwing around with a new racket and Murray had beaten both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer leading up to the event. Maybe they’re impatient because the Aussie Open was his 13th slam event and Nadal won a slam title in only his sixth try. Michael Chang probably takes the cake. His French Open title in 1989 was only the fifth slam he entered.

But Chang never won another slam and Nadal sometimes looks like a mummy with that tape all over his body. I’m not alone in predicting Nadal’s early demise due to his style of play and his habit of overplaying. When journalists asked Nadal if he played too much at the end of last year thereby injuring his knee and putting himself out of the Davis Cup final, he explained that his camp believes that if you’re playing well, you should just keep going.

How silly is that? Let’s just call it the “play till you drop” theory. Murray’s case is a bit more complicated. He knew he needed to be fitter and stronger but he doesn’t have Nadal’s body. Well, no one does. But Murray has a congenital problem with his right knee – the kneecap is split instead of one piece, and he’s injury prone. That’s not the kind of body you push too much.

Murray’s camp should have been smarter about mixing in conditioning and strength work with actual playing conditions. You do get better at five set matches the more you play them, you know. And that’s the problem: pushing for results instead of letting a player develop at a speed their body can tolerate.

Besides, Federer didn’t win a slam until his 17th try and he’s done alright. And Federer might be suffering from a bad back at the moment, but it’s not a wild guess to say that his career will last longer than either Nadal’s or Murray’s at the rate they’re both pushing themselves.