View Full Version : age and injury....

Apr 4th, 2002, 04:44 AM
When Kim Clijsters came down with a stress fracture at the Australian Open, our first thought was not, "Too bad." It was "another one." Because Clijsters is following almost a standard path: Hit 18, start playing more, get hurt.

Injuries, of course, are the big story on the WTA Tour these days; if we look at the current Top Ten, every one of these players has missed at least one tournament due to injury in the past two years, and only two (Jennifer Capriati and Jelena Dokic) have not had, or at least claimed, major injuries. Clijsters isn't the only one with a stress fracture. Monica Seles had one (we could also mention Anna Kournikova, who was top ten at the time of her injury, as a stress fracture victim). In the past year, Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport have both had surgery. We could spend a whole column looking at these injuries and their nature.

But that's not our point. Instead, we're going to look at the interaction between age and injury.

The WTA is under two very different pressures: Spectators want to see more top players play, so the WTA tries to get those top players to enter more events. But we also see players burning out, so there is pressure to have them play less.

The net result is what can only be called a bad compromise: Any player over 18 can play as much as she wants, and the ranking system encourages her to do so. But players under 18 are placed under age restriction rules, and suffer in the rankings accordingly. There are age rules for playing. There are no age rules for rankings.

So what happens when players turn 18? They tend to go on playing sprees. Let's document that. We'll look at the top players who have come up since the current more strict age restrictions came in. (We should note that these are not the most strict age restrictions; those, imposed in 1994, were the "Capriati Rules II," imposed after Jennifer Capriati's burnout, and affected all players younger than Martina Hingis, except for Anna Kournikova, who was partially excepted. We are currently operating under the "Lucic rules," which are slightly more liberal but still much more strict than the "Capriati Rules I," imposed to get Capriati as much playing time as possible as a teenager.)

We won't take every player; a player ranked low enough probably loses often enough that she can't overplay. But we'll look at top contenders. In the table below, we'll list the player, her birthday, the number of events she had played as of the week she turned 18, and the number of events she had one year later (or as of now, if she hasn't yet turned 19).

Player ....... Birthday ...Events@18 .Events@19
Bedanova ..... Mar 9, 1983 ... 15 .......24
Bovina ....... Mar 10, 1983 ...17 .......21
Clijsters .....Jun 8, 1983 ... 19 .......21[1]
Dementieva ... Oct 15, 1981 ...19 .......20
Dokic .........Apr 12, 1983 ...17 .......29[2]
Hantuchova ... Apr 23, 1983 ...16 .......21[2]
Henin .........Jun 1, 1982 ... 10 .......23[3]
Kournikova ... Jun 7, 1981 ... 20 .......21[4]
Marrero .......Jan 16, 1983 ...17 .......26
M. J. Martinez Dec 8, 1982 ... 17 .......24
Medina Garrigu Jul 31, 1982 ...12 .......26
Molik .........Jan 27, 1981 ...17 .......22
Myskina .......Jul 8, 1981 ... 17 .......23
Petrova .......Jun 8, 1982 ... 17 .......19
Srebotnik .....Mar 12, 1981 ...18 .......26
Tulyaganova ...Jan 7, 1982 ... 13 .......21
S. Williams ...Sep 26, 1981 ...12 .......12

[1] Clijsters is not yet 19, and has been injured; based on her
initial schedule, she would probably have had about 24 events
on her nineteenth birthday
[2] Not yet 19
[3] Henin was already starting to suffer regular injuries before
she turned 18; hence her low number in "events@18"
[4]Kournikova was given a partial ranking exception, meaning that
she was given the right to play a full schedule at 17. For her,
the key statistic is that she played 26 events in 2000 (her
first chance at a full schedule) -- and lost half of 2001 with

In addition, the following players are not yet 18 but have
suffered substantial injuries:

Player ....... Birthday .....Max Tourns .Current Trns
Krasnoroutsaka Apr 29, 1984 ... 18 .........12

Thus we observe that every one of these players except Serena Williams increased her schedule after turning 19. The median number of events played at age 18 was 17 (which is proper, since that's how many a 17-year-old is allowed to play; players with more were bending the rules in some way). The median number of events played by 19-year-olds was 22. The median increase was six. Eight players (Bedanova, Dokic, Henin, Marrero, M. J. Martinez, Medina Garrigues, Srebotnik, Tulyaganova) added at least seven tournaments in the year they turned eighteen.

In other words, players crank up their schedules by about a third when they reach 18. (In two cases -- Henin and Medina Garrigues -- they more than doubled it.)

Also noteworthy in this list is the median of 22 events for players on their nineteenth birthday. At present, there are six players in the Top Ten who are over 20 years old (Capriati, Davenport, Hingis, Mauresmo, Seles, Venus Williams), and not one of them has more than 18 events. Hingis and Davenport have each managed 22 events at some point in their careers, but not gone beyond, and both cut back the next year; the others, for the most part, have never been that high since hitting the Top Twenty.

And what do we see for injuries? Clijsters has a stress fracture. Myskina, though she was only out for a few weeks, lost most of a year to the aftereffects of a wrist injury. Petrova has been out for the last couple of months, and still isn't back. Krasnoroutskaya is also out. Henin and Kournikova are extremely injury-prone. Dementieva has started to lose time. Even Dokic, the iron horse of the WTA Tour, started to suffer injuries at the end of last year.

The new ranking rules have resulted in a massive "play escalation." Could it be time for "arms control"?


Apr 4th, 2002, 05:02 AM
Excellent analysis tennischick!!!!!! you should send that post to the WTA ........ maybe they would then lower the number of tournaments counting for the rankings!!!!!:bounce: GOOD JOB!!!!!

Apr 4th, 2002, 01:15 PM
I agree !!!

I can't see.. the williams sisters, dokic, anna k, henin.. and a lot of other young players.... playing in their 30's...
I don't think... their bodies would hold up.. I guessed the way they play makes them more prone to injuries.

Apr 4th, 2002, 08:55 PM
I can't believe this thread has had so little response!!

17 .......29[2]

for Jelena!! Bloody Hell!!! I'm actually more surprised she wan't injured earlier ...

Maybe they could more gradually encourage them into the tour - either more liberal at 18, or still a slight restriction at 19??

Apr 4th, 2002, 10:29 PM
Serena schedules 17+ events every year. She just doesn't make it. But remember she's been injured virtually every year of her career. Her example certainly doesn't argue against the pattern.

I agree with bee - It IS something in how the power players play. The power players do something vastly, more athletically difficult than 'finesse'.

When Martina Hingis hits her groundstrokes, most of the time she generates power from her arms. She doesn't usually step into her shots unless she's hitting a winner. She doesn't need to hit the ball hard to set up the opponent.

Venus Williams plants her feet wide apart, then rotates her body as fast as she can 180 degrees. While she's doing this, she hits the ball at the lines. Focus on how difficult a thing that is to do. Go try it yourself a couple times. The open stance is very difficult tocontrol, but it generates a load of power. Venus controls more power through her technique than anyone on tour. And given that she isn't exactly overweight, it no surprise she breaks down. Look at the Clijsters backhand. The girl is like a drawn bow. And she just releases all that enrgy into the shot. Lindsay Davenport - 'Hit it hard, hit it flat, walk away'. Monica, Jennifer. Justine Henin HUGE backhand. When you're hitting with your whole body almost every single time, there's a lot of 'wear and tear'. The amazing thing is, some of these players attack the lines!

Venus and Serena, of course, are kind of in a class by themselves. They go for winners 90+% of the time, and they do not play it safe. The lines are not boundaries to them. They're targets.

Other players try to hit the ball INSIDE the lines, but they are hitting VERY hard, and they are not aiming FAR inside the lines. Feet, not meters. Jenn will ocassionally use a backhand to set up, instead of trying for a winner off that side. Off the forehand.... Hell, she's a winner machine on that side so why not? Monica pretty much goes for a winner on any ball she can set up on. And she's crankin' it out there. No one hits a higher percentage of their shots hard than Monica.

It just means if you choose to play that way, maybe you can't play 17 tournaments. Maybe you take two 'zeroes', and only play 15. Serena Williams play NINE tournaments last year, and wound up ranked #6. No one says you can't excel with less than 17 tournaments.

auntie janie
Apr 4th, 2002, 11:00 PM
just curious, why don't you post stuff like this on Tennis Week? it would be greatly appreciated there. :confused:

Apr 4th, 2002, 11:59 PM
sorry janie, i should have. i guess i assume that most posters check both places but i shouldn't have. you know i like collecting interesting articles! will correct pronto.

Originally posted by janie
just curious, why don't you post stuff like this on Tennis Week? it would be greatly appreciated there. :confused:

Apr 5th, 2002, 12:02 AM
three guesses VBN:

1. most posters are more fans of particular players and less fans of the sport... :o

2. there were no trivial issues to argue about in this article... :eek:

3. the article forgot to mention race... :rolleyes:

Originally posted by veryborednow
I can't believe this thread has had so little response!!

Apr 5th, 2002, 12:10 AM
excellent observations Volcana, esp about the way Hingis hits her shots vs the Sisters. bec i love tennis, i want these players to be around a long time and enjoy long careers. but the power players will always find their careers punctuated by major injury time-outs. Lindsay and Mary immediately come to mind, and altho' Mary is back, she is wearing a huge thigh strap so her body is still being held together with duct tape. is it worth it?

should the tour reduce the # of tournies or should players re-consider their approach to the sport?

of course this is all speculative and theoretical. players will do what the heck they feel like doing and these days power rules. you can see it even in junior tournaments. there was an article in Tennis recently about the spate of injuries among Junior players who are imitating the pros and hitting out on every shot. where are the coaches to advise otherwise?

Originally posted by Volcana
Serena schedules 17+ events every year. She just doesn't make it. But remember she's been injured virtually every year of her career. Her example certainly doesn't argue against the pattern......Serena Williams play NINE tournaments last year, and wound up ranked #6. No one says you can't excel with less than 17 tournaments.

Apr 5th, 2002, 12:23 AM
These statistics certainly could be seen as counter-productive in restricting players via AER (not sure it that's what you're intimating there tennischick?), but I'm not sure it's wise to dictate to a player (Dokic for example is 18) when and how they should be playing using legislation. Presumably players sit down with their coaches and plan a schedule that's tied in with particular goals etc., and it's there that eyebrows should be raised.

One thing to consider as a possible flip-side to this argument is that, as well as playing more, players are also training A HELL of a lot more than they were 15, 10, 5 years ago. The power game (which EVERYONE is playing, whether they're winning or fully participating is another matter) has brought with it one certainty: careers are on the whole going to get shorter. I think this must be a fact.

One way to circumvent this perhaps would be to make the rankings less about week-in-week out toil (which the WTA could never be SEEN to do). Basically making Slams and Tier I's even more lopsided in a hope that players will not go hell-for-leather week in week out. However, this doesn't solve the problem of young up'n'comers desparate for points and consistency working themselves into the ground.

I don't see an awful lot the WTA can do, except to EDUCATE the players (but you would have thought they do this already). If a player says they want to play 25 events in a year, if the spectre of sanity doesn't stop them, I'm not sure an awful lot will

Apr 5th, 2002, 12:43 AM
What thefreedesigner wrote.

It's not just these young players being injured either. That just happens to be the sample shown in this article...which is from the Larson Newsletter/Daily Tennis and looks like it was written by Robert Waltz.

Also note that the Williams Sisters didn't play "full" schedules last year and they still get injured.

Apr 5th, 2002, 12:44 AM
where did i say anything about legislation? i mentioned the role of coaches and i suppose i could have mentioned trainers bec these to me are the key people in helping players develop a style of play that can be effective and yet allow them to have long careers if that is what they want. it's a question of priorities i suppose. players can come into the sport, go all out for a year or two, make a huge amount of $$ and quit and go on to do other things. for players who may choose to have longer careers, then coaches are crucial in helping them develop a style of play that is conducive to that. i don't see why the WTA has to get involved in this in any legislative capacity. i was responding only to the notion that many have put forward that the WTA schedule is too demanding. but of course there are players who play a minimal schedule and still get injured bec of the style of play (e..g, Venus).

i agree with your other thoughts and didn't mean to "intimate" anything untoward.

Apr 5th, 2002, 08:32 AM

Apr 5th, 2002, 10:02 AM
Regarding Justine's figures.... she would have played quite alot more if she hadn't been injured frequently in 1999 and 2000.

she missed a chunk of both seasons.

The players have to undergo a Player Development Program and if they don't get thru that then they still cannot play even if they have turned 18.

Apr 5th, 2002, 10:20 AM
Is there any information on the Player Development Program??

Apr 5th, 2002, 10:32 AM
Yep i just sent it to Josh yesterday

its in the Stats section under Age Ruling

Apr 5th, 2002, 10:37 AM
thanks :)