Category Archives: Injuries

Dementieva and Henin-Hardenne on the couch

The clay court season has started. The men played on red clay last week in Monte Carlo. Rafael Nadal won the event after yet another five set match. Unfortunately, The Tennis Channel does not come to my neighborhood yet. I have no such excuse for the Nasdaq final between Federer and Nadal – my DVR couldn’t handle the time change. I did manage to get a copy though. Coming soon.

Justine Henin-Hardenne and Elena Dementieva played the final on green clay at the Family Circle Cup. I’ve never seen this before. In between points each woman rested on a couch that looked like it had been borrowed from the front parlor room of an old Victorian mansion from nearby Charleston.

Henin-Hardenne is nothing if not competitive. It must have pissed her off to see her countrywoman Kim Clijsters win two big tournaments in a row: the Pac Life and Nasdaq 100. Let’s see if she can keep up.

Dementieva and Henin-Hardenne are even through the first six games, each with a break and one double fault. Dementieva breaks in the eighth game to go up 5-3. This is only Hardenne’s second tournament back after missing most of last year with injury and illness. Her magnificent backhand is working well but here forehand is still undependable.

Henin-Hardenne is one of the top servers on the tour. In the fourth game she unloads one at 117mph, only 10mph off the WTA record, and her first serve percentage is 65%. She has a good second serve yet she’s winning only 15% of second serve points. What’s going on here?

Dementieva’s serve is an adventure unlike anything you see except, maybe, at one of my matches. Given this serve and the fact that she doesn’t often come to the net, Dementieva must have game somewhere. She’s the number two seed here, ranks fifth in the world, she’s won four tour events and played in two slam finals and yet she had 17, yes 17, double faults in her quarterfinal win against Katarina Srebotnik. She has consistent, deep ground shots, a good inside out forehand and backhand and superior anticipation. She’s well on her way to the ball when many other plays would just be starting.

And she returns serve exceptionally well. Thus explaning Hardenne’s second serve winning percentage.

In the ninth game, Henin-Hardenne starts taking chances with her groundstrokes, comes to the net more and wins the last four games to win the set 7-5. This elicits squeals number 3, 4, 5 and 6 from Dementieva, she’s a squealer, one after a net chord, another after a backhand error and the last two as she realizes that Henin-Hardenne is taking the game to her and she’s not responding.

In each of Dementieva’s first two service games in the second set, she double faults twice. There are five breaks in the first six games and Henin-Hardenne is up 4-2. Both players are playing uninspired tennis.

This is the time when I remember why I prefer hard court tennis. Long rallies of high looping balls on green clay, or worse, red clay, can be uninteresting. The long rallies may be tiring Henin-Hardenne; she’s already played two three setters to get here. Her illness last year was exhaustion and she is surely telling herself that Dementieva might have the advantage in a third set. She attacks even more and makes errors as Dementieva climbs back to 4-4.

She wore herself out. She came back for the Olympics and, typically, won the gold medal then fell to exhaustion again. It will be interesting to see if her body can keep up with her will.

Henin-Hardenne is a champion for a reason. She’s fearless. She goes for a huge backhand down the line to get a break point in the ninth game, breaks on the next point and regains momentum. Serving for the set and match, she smacks every first serve as hard as she can to try to end the match here and now. She gets few of those serves in but she does get one ace and hits three other winners. After a few “allez!”s from the Belgian, eight squeals and some muttering in Russian from Dementieva, Henin-Hardenne has her first title of the year, 7-5, 6-4.

Now let’s go back to that couch.

Some players are talented but mercurial, Safin for instance. Others physically impose their game on their opponent. Henin-Hardenne is one of those players who wills herself to excellence. But you can push yourself too hard. I am just a lowly recreational player and even I set goals that are too high and exhaust myself trying to reach them. That may be hard to say about someone who has won three grand slams but I think it might explain part of the illness that kept her at home most of last year. She wore herself out. She came back for the Olympics and, typically, won the gold medal then fell to exhaustion again. It will be interesting to see if her body can keep up with her will.

Dementieva seems to enjoy putting herself in a difficult position then finding her way out of it. She’s an interesting mixture because she’s known as a tenacious fighter and yet her double faults increase tellingly when she’s under pressure. She may be number five in the rankings but the only person in the top ten with fewer tour wins is number ten, Vera Zvonareva, and she’s been on the tour two years less. Dementieva has yet to win a tier 1 level tournament.

Clearly a better serve would improve her game. It would relieve her of putting so much pressure on the rest of her game to make up for the double faults and wonky serves. More importantly, the mental strength she’d gain from being able to serve consistently might make her feel more comfortable as a front runner.

Mr. Magic fixes hand injuries

I injured my thumb in September and kept playing with the injury until the end of league play in October. Dumb, I know. I stopped playing tennis as soon as league finished. I visited my physical therapist weekly. I started taking a glucosamine supplement and using arnica cream to keep the swelling down. My thumb improved slowly but surely. Too slowly. So I put it in a splint for five weeks. After five weeks it was better but I still couldn’t play tennis and now my thumb clicked terribly whenever I tried to bend it.

Finally I remembered to go and see my trainer, Lenny Parracino. He’s certified in Active Release Technique. If you have a joint injury, you have injury to the connective tissue around the joint. If you’re lucky and the joint is not injured, then only the connective tissue is injured. Either way, it’s important to get work done directly to the connective tissue if you want your digit to heal any time soon. I’m not going to lie to you, it does hurt. But it’s worth it. After two visits my thumb felt much better. After three weeks I am on the tennis courts again. Every day I stretch my thumb, squeeze Theraputty in my hand and strengthen my fingers with a Power Web. I’ll keep doing this until the pain completely disappears.

By the way, nobody is paying me to publish these links though I wish they would. It’s very expensive to go to a physical therapist and a trainer and then buy all of these rehabilitative thingies. I have a closet full of weights, straps, calf stretchers and yoga props. If I wanted to open a dungeon, I’d be well equipped.

After talking with Lenny, I now think that it was a mistake to wear a splint. The splint reduced the pain only because I wasn’t using my thumb. My connective tissue seemed to be worse – I developed trigger finger – and I lost muscle tone and flexibility in my hand. I think it’s a better idea to use your injured part as much as possible making sure that you heed pain. If something hurts, stop doing what you’re doing.

When you get Active Release work, be sure to see someone who will spend some time working with you. Don’t settle for a ten-minute turn with a body worker who is trying to maximize profit by getting people in and out of the door as quickly as possible. It does happen, you know.

sports therapy 101

I used to hear my mother’s voice in my head all day long. Each time I did something stupid or even barely avoided doing something stupid, I’d hear her say, “There you go again, always doing something wrong.” It’s not her fault. My mother is 92 years old. She can barely get out of her chair let alone follow me around as I get into road rage incidents and embarrassing displays of anger. Worse than that, when I finally exorcised her voice, it was only to be replaced by the voice of an in-law or my partner’s friends. I am single, I don’t have a partner. Full proof that I have sole ownership of this voice.

Lately I’ve been trying something different. Every time I do something I’d rather not have done or imagine doing something worse, my imagination is good at disaster scenarios, I replay the situation with a different outcome. If I almost run into a cyclist and I’m so upset that I angrily yell at him, “You’re not supposed to ride on the sidewalk anyway!”, my voices will have me in jail and out of a few million dollars before I’m halfway home. Instead, I imagine that I got out of the car, asked the cyclist if he was o.k. and then earnestly explained that I can’t see him coming if he’s on the sidewalk in front of a tall building made of cement and would he please consider that next time he rides into an intersection from the sidewalk. I then reminded myself to stop at the beginning of the crosswalk before making a right turn next time and went on my way.

Same thing on a tennis court. I just hit the ball down the line and it hit the net cord. I double faulted for the third time. I mishit an overhead or swung at it and missed completely. If I fume about those bad shots then I’m consumed with the idea of hitting bad shots and I’m likely to keep producing them. That’s why it can be hard to turn the game around once we make a few errors. If, instead, I replay the shot in my mind as a perfectly hit ball sailing over the net and landing at the baseline, then I can go onto the next shot and get my mind back into the game at hand. I’ve not only resolved the past but I’ve presented myself with an image to aim for the next time I try that shot.

I’m telling you, where else can you resolve the past and learn to live in the present without paying thousands of dollars for psychotherapy or suffering through hours of boring meditation?

Practice and Competition Report: The rain has finally stopped in Southern California! After two months of injury and too many weeks of rain, I ran out to the tennis court only to forget my sports bra. It’s been that long.

Before each serve, I mentally rehearse my service stroke and I see the ball land exactly where I want it to land. As my toss kept sailing over my head and behind me, I realized that I have been leaving the service toss placement out of my mental rehearsal. I get maximum extension if I toss the ball in line with my head so I toss it above my head and a racket length in front of the baseline. To practice my service toss, I place a ball on the court one racket length in front of the my serving position. Then I serve and let the ball drop to see if I can hit the ball lying on the court.

sometimes Jim Rome really pisses me off

Jim Rome is the rapper, the spoken word king of sports radio. Give him a subject and he flies with it. Sometimes I just have to tun in to check out his latest rant. Sometimes, though, he just pisses me off.

The soccer players Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett retired this year. Hamm and Foudy recently played their last game at the Home Depot Center, a friendly against Mexico. It’s the end of an incredible run of over 15 yearsthat includes two world championships and two Olympic gold medals. But Jim’s rant on the subject took the form of “Who cares? Do you know any of their names? Who pays attention to soccer anyway?”

I didn’t pay attention to hockey before the “miracle on ice” at the 1980 Olympics and I didn’t pay attention to hockey afterwards. I didn’t watch much soccer before the 1999 Women’s World Cup final against China and I haven’t watched much since. But those games are huge events in American sports. A completely sold out Rose Bowl saw the U.S. beat China on penalty kicks and win the World Cup in 1999. Womens’ sports took a giant step forward and so did soccer in this county. More kids play soccer now than any other sport. Mia Hamm’s name recognition is right there with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

There may be no women’s professional soccer league and the NBA may have to support the WNBA for now. But I remember when professional baseball players had to get off season jobs to support their family. Womens’ sports won’t get established over night. It might take twenty years before we see reporters crowding around a WNBAor WUSA player on a nightly basis. That doesn’t mean you can throw away the legacy of this group of players and their teammates. You don’t get press in this country unless you’ve done something very bad or very good. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has been very good for a long time.

Practice Report: I think I used to spend less time playing tennis before I injured my thumb and achilles heel. Here is my current rehab schedule, more or less:
1. ice my thumb and achilles heel twice a day
2. stretch and strengthen my thumb
3. strengthen my forearm to avoid tennis elbow
4. do three stretches for my shoulder and two stretches for my heel daily
5. shadow tennis and virtual tennis daily so I don’t lose range of movement
6. go to the gym three times a week and do aerobics twice a week

injury rehab for those who pay to play

Yesterday I drove to Santa Barbara and back for a tantra class and went to another class in the evening. After the class I packed my bags for a trip. Around midnight I went to a local motel to sleep because I had a severe headache from the new paint on my house. I got up at 5:30am to drive to San Francisco because my travel partner wanted to arrive by 1pm.

During the drive I played tennis. I moved the seatback back and down, put a pillow under my head and mentally rehearsed my practice routine. Lanny Bassham is a world champion and Olympic gold medalist pistol shooter. He was once stationed on a military base nowhere near a firing range. He practiced dry firing – firing without bullets – five hours a day, five days a week for two years with only a handful of visits to a shooting range and managed to win a World Cup.

I’m on the injured list. Still. I have a sprained ligament in my thumb and my achilles tendon is sore. But no one is paying me five million dollars a year to play tennis or giving me 24/7 access to a trainer or flying me off to see the top orthopedic doctor in the country. So what should I do when I get an injury? Here are two examples:

I ran into a fellow player in my league at the gym. He noticed my thumb splint and started pointing to all of his injuries. They included chronic pain in his hand and shoulder. Like many, many people in this country, he doesn’t have health insurance.

I recently stopped off to visit a friend in Simi Valley who plays tennis after reluctantly and dutifully taking my sisters to see the Ronald Reagan Presidential library. My friend told me that as soon as he feels pain anywhere, he stops playing tennis until the pain goes away.

I see people make two mistakes when they get an injury: they don’t get the appropriate help for their injury and they don’t take time off from tennis to let the injury heal. And even if they do, they start up playing again as if they never stopped and injure themselves all over again.

There are two types of injuries. I sprained a ligament in my thumb because I decided that I could practice return of serve with a semi-pro tennis player. One of his serves kicked up and bent my thumb backwards. That’s an accident and I could have avoided it if I was more realistic about my tennis playing abilities. Tennis elbow is an example of the second kind of injury. It’s usually the result of a structural problem in your body or your playing technique. I got tennis elbow because my forearm is weak and because I was swinging the racket with all arm and no body.

If you have an injury, get treatment. If you don’t have health insurance or your health insurance doesn’t cover tennis injuries, make a deal with a physical therapist to pay them privately. You can probably find a physical therapist who’ll treat you for $50 or less for a half hour session. If you have inflammation and especially if you have scar tissue, a physical therapist can treat it with ultrasound. If you have tennis elbow you might well have scar tissue and the pain is not going anywhere unless you get treatment. The therapist will also give you strength and stretching exercises to strengthen the area and help the scar tissue heal.

You’re not done yet. Consider that the alternative is not playing tennis or playing with chronic injury and possibly ending up with arthritis. I like tennis but not that much. Much of the time people get tennis elbow because they think you hit the ball with your arm. Granted it’s hard to swing a racket without your arm but most of the strength comes from your leg, butt and trunk muscles. Watch most recreational players, they swing their arm and that’s it. No step into the ball, knee bend or trunk twist and not a lot of follow through.

To get help with your strokes, take tennis lessons from someone who understands body mechanics. If that doesn’t work don’t despair. It just means you need more help to get your body structure working properly. Find a trainer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine or take Alexander Technique lessons.

There’s still more. You can play tennis. Not on the court but you can play in your living room or backyard. If the injury is in your upper body, play tennis without a racket – let’s call it shadow tennis. Practice all your strokes and footwork as if you were in a practice session. This is a great opportunity to pay attention to your strokes without worrying about a ball flying at you. If you usually play tennis twice a week, play shadow tennis twice a week. You have no excuse that I can think of. Again, look at the alternative. Lets say it takes a month for your injury to heal then you go out and play your usual best of three sets Saturday morning tennis match without so much as swinging a racket over your head. That’s a great recipe for further injury.

If you have a knee or anke injury, you can still play tennis. Lie back on the couch and imagine practicing your strokes and playing a set of tennis against a regular opponent. Virtual tennis let’s call it, a tennis video game in your mind and you get to win every point if you like. This might be difficult to begin with. I often fall asleep or slide off into a fantasy world of slash fiction. But you will get much better at it and you’ll develop your ability to mentally focus. Let’s say you win a set of tennis at love and win every point in every game. That’s a minimum of 24 points. If you can’t mentally focus for that long, how good is your mental focus when you actually play a game of tennis?

This, then, is one way to deal with injury:
1. stop playing until your injury heals
2. get appropriate help for your injury – see a physical therapist and get alignment and structural help for your body
3. play shadow tennis as often as you usually play tennis each week
4. play virtual tennis

There are lots of retired athletes who have trouble walking up the stairs and are on their second set of replacement knees. You don’t need to do that. It’s quite likely that you’ll benefit from an injury – your strokes will be better, your body will be stronger and your ability to mentally focus will improve.