The health of tennis players

In 1993, we requested  ATP to consider our position, lobbying for the preferential use of clay. We noted :

¤ The players are injured more today than 20 years ago, whereas they now play less. (fewer doubles and 5 set matches.)
¤ The TV tennis ratings are falling.
¤ The ITF studied the possibility of changing the regulations of the equipment (balls, rackets) to revive interest in the game.
¤ Umpiring techniques and standards on hard courts to be reviewed.

The situation has still not improved. There appears to be no recognition of physical problems caused by the matches played on the hard surface.

The injuries to Guy Forget, Steffi Graf, Sergi Bruguera and, Julie Halard and many others have led to the temporary or final interruption of their tennis careers.

Bill Norris, ATP Physiotherapist declared more than 10 years ago: “If it were up to me, the entire professional circuit would be played on clay.”

Whereas the wisdom and observation displayed by our French friends is very topical, it is also timely for us to reflect upon this during the course of the present U.S. Open Tournament at Flushing Meadow (2004). Clearly, the media always finds emphasis on the many injuries sustained at both the Australian Open and the U.S. events, and that underlines the injuries that are being sustained by players on hard court surfaces. This is in direct contrast to experiences at the French and Wimbledon Grand Slams. However, it should be emphasised, that it is not only the matter of the surfaces at these premier events, but more relevant is the constant pounding of bodies and joints in the year round preparation and training of players.

As a health and safety issue, it is totally irresponsible of administrators, at all levels of tennis, to ignore such salient factors.

The lingering memories of HINGIS and CAPRIATI at the 2002 Australian Open; the photograph of the fallen PHILIPPOUSSIS at the U.S. Open; are dramatic and graphic. Vividly, the “road to ruin” in today’s tennis, can be depicted as the “pavement to disaster” unless action is taken NOW to halt this disastrous trend, and to install clay tennis courts.

ADTB  – 2004


The influence of the playing surface on tennis injuries

The cold hard facts are there. The research has been undertaken globally. Biomechanical experts have published their findings, and the elite tennis players have succumbed! Tennis players start young, and want to enjoy their sport well into their retirement years, but they cannot do so on hard court surfaces. This is proven. World-wide, there is clear evidence that the trend for hard court installations is matched by a decrease of player activity, and conversely, in countries where there is an increase in clay court installations, there is a parallel of escalating player participation, activity and performance.

A paper prepared by Benno M. Nigg, Professor of Biomechanics, at the University of Calgary, Canada, emphasised that “surfaces that allowed sliding resulted in about 75% fewer injuries than surfaces which did not”.

It is important to stress the difference between “slide” and “slip”. The characteristics displayed by synthetic grass surfaces are every bit as dangerous as hard courts, maybe more so. Also, the so called “cushion surfaces” are causing even more injuries, and these damages to the muscle-skeletal system are not limited only to ankles, knees, hips and backs.

The message is clear. The warnings should be made throughout sports’ administrators, coaches, recreation officers, and of course, parents. Quite apart from the looming threats of litigation now developing through the ‘elite’ players, whose careers are being cut short, the high costs associated with public liability insurance will soon become apparent. The guardians of health and safety in sport will have to focus on the replacement of hard surfaces (including synthetic grass) with clay. Of course, this will ultimately lead to better players, and the benefit of more participants across the full age spectrum.