Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Body as the toughest Opponent - David and his Injuries

When Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in the final at Wimbledon, it was the 48th match he won this year, having lost only one. When David lost to Roger Federer in the third round at Wimbledon, it was his 58th match - but for this season and all of the last one combined.
Ever since his return after hip surgery, injuries and other physical problems have severely limited the amount of matches David has been able to play. Forcing him again and again to pause, to recover, to prepare and then make another new start on the Tour. Never allowing him to establish much of a rhythm or routine, or to gain match practice.
With the latest muscular injury currently sidelining David for the next days' Davis Cup quarterfinal, it's time to take a look back at the surgery that changed the course of David's career as well as its consequences, past, present and perhaps also for the future...
(photo: La Nacion)

Flashback. On May 13, 2009 David was wheeled to the operating room at the Clínica CIMA in Barcelona (sorry, I think I initially typed Buenos Aires out of sheer habit), wondering whether after the hip surgery he was about to undergo he'd be able to leave the hospital on his own two feet. Knowing that this kind of surgery had ended tennis careers before but also knowing that it was his only chance of continuing to play. The surgery was a success, there were no complications, and immediately afterwards, David was able to start with the first exercises. Taking the first steps - on crutches but on his own two feet - down the long road towards his comeback on the Tour.
But although his hip surgery was successful and would eventually enable David to move, train and play matches without the pain that had previously tormented him for over a year, it was also clear that this operation was going to have an impact on the rest of his career. It just wasn't clear how that impact would manifest itself.

By now, it is. Only 58 matches over the course of one and a half seasons, a total of 15 tournaments missed (including four out of seven Slams) due to physical problems, ranging from exhaustion to hernia and the double surgery he had in March. On average, David gets to play less than 10 matches between one injury pause and the next. The majority of which, including the current one, have been caused by muscular injuries, hamstring and especially adductor problems. So far, those injuries occurred when David played on clay (Buenos Aires 2010, Monte Carlo 2010, Davis Cup R1 2011). Now it has also happened on grass, and after the surgery in March that was supposed to put an end to injuries like that. I can't tell whether any mistakes were made, be it by the doctors or by David's team. But what's obvious is that they still haven't really found a way of keeping these injuries from happening.

Right now, there is still no statement from David about this latest injury or his plans for the coming weeks, with the US hardcourt swing drawing near. Last year, it was during this stage of the season that David was able to play his longest, as well as his most successful series of matches since hip surgery. And back then it seemed like the worst of his injury problems was behind him. Now, one year later, the ranking points from that run will soon be gone. But the injury problems remain and with them the question, how much longer until David has enough of the injuries and pauses, of recovery and then yet another comeback - until the next injury.

From tomorrow on, David (who's currently at home) will be at the Parque Roca for the quarterfinal tie, to support the team. It's the first time that a muscular injury is keeping him from playing Davis Cup and it's going to hurt, having to watch from the sidelines. Whether the next time around David will be part of the team again and what's going to happen until then, during the US hardcort swing - we'll see...


  1. Thank you for the post, Julia.
    maybe the hip surgery has made David use his lower muscles more than he should, causing muscular tears/adductor problems/etc. Maybe he feels that he can't lean on his hip, so he tries to compensate with other muscles, and that's tiring. I really don't know, it's just my guess.. :(

    David usually plays his best tennis later in the indoors season. Let's hope it'll be the same this year.
    Their estimated recovery time is optimistic but I'm afraid it'll take more than 3 weeks.

    It's very tough for David to pursue a serene season since the "body factor" will always be on the table.
    And very frustrating to be sidelined knowing that DC tie is played on your home soil and that you've been waiting for this throughout the year.

    Tough times for Vamos Daviders :(

  2. You're welcome, Mira. And yeah, I don't know or understand the exact workings of it myself but I think that since hip surgery David's locomotory system has somehow been out of balance and that the muscular injuries in his thighs are the result of that.

  3. What usually happens after a big surgery after which your out for man than a year is that when you come back your muscles arent ready for a pro sports tempo so thats why the injuries happen.In my opinion tho,if he doesnt have another surgery until the end of his carer I think this stuff should stop.

  4. It's normal in the months after coming back from a surgery like that. And last year, his doctors told David that the first half of the season would be difficult. As it turned out, the first muscular injury (abdominal tear) already came before his comeback, delaying it. And that wasn't unusual, after having been away from the Tour for over nine months.

    But the adductor/hamstring problems seem to have become a pattern by now. As has a general kind of fragility and David running out of gas after tough matches or playing several in a row.
    I just think that he has certain expectations of what he wants to be able to accomplish on Tour and by now I'm starting to wonder whether his body is still up to the task.

  5. Davis Cup Update:
    David couldn't take the plane from Córdoba to Buenos Aires this morning (because of volcanic ash from an eruption over in Chile).
    So now he's on his way to Buenos Aires and the Parque Roca by car.

  6. oh thanks Julia :)
    I've just tuned in to watch the 1st match Monaco/Golubev, hoping to see David courtside.
    (stream available on LSH)
    we'll probably see him in the next match.

  7. Okay, so the LSH people woke up after all. I'll add them to the list.
    It's a 700km drive... I hope David gets there in one piece.

  8. wow 700km. I hope he and/or his driver are driving safely.
    It's okay to miss the 1st day then.

  9. Thanks for the summary, Julia. Not the most uplifting stuff, but certainly it is reality. It's been a difficult two years for David and his followers. Mira and Julia, you may be on to something with your assessments. "Since hip surgery David's locomotory system has somehow been out of balance." I like that. Makes sense to me. Oh, and now volcanoes. Wouldn't surprise me if David is driving like it's a road rally

  10. lol John, just had the exact same thought, I hope David has a driver. And we can imagine how much he is excited to arrive in Buenos Aires...

  11. If he drives fast(which i suppose he does haha) he can get there in about 5 hours,maybe even a little less.

  12. I didn't catch it live but apparently TyC Sports did a live phone interview with David, on his way to Buenos Aires. And he said that he's going to start training again on Monday.
    - Good news. :)

    But yeah, John, the impression I get is that something is wrong with the whole system. I just hope they'll find a way of getting it right. And soon...

  13. Yeah, I would agree. Something isn't right.

  14. If I might be blunt here, I can tell you what is not right: the amount of time these coaches and trainers spent making his physique work against him rather than FOR him. He's had issues with his abdomen for years; rather than do strength-training exercises to improve its flexibility and resistance to injury, they recommend padding it with-wait for it-FAT!! Really? I don't have to elaborate about the other issues, do I?

  15. That's what someone posted here. I've never seen or read anything to that extent anywhere else.

  16. You're not going to read about it anywhere; that's the thing. No one in a position to impact a player's career is going to damage their credibility that way. Instead, they do the work behind the scenes and hope no one finds out.

  17. Or maybe someone just went and slightly misinterpreted something that they actually said. ;)

  18. Good analysis Tiffany!! I totally agree.

  19. Allow me me clarify something about the statement that VD reader was referring to and which Tiffany has quoted:
    The question was whether David should lose as much weight as possible to be fitter in general and to avoid injuries, including abdominal problems. To which his team basically just said that making him lose too much weight wasn't going to make him more stable, physically. - That's where it all came from.

    But right now, it's a different situation. And his weight is not the problem.

  20. Julia, the person I spoke with some years ago commented on the issue. To me it did not sound like a misinterpretation. This person was pretty lucid in her analysis.

  21. Well, I never believed that being as thin as possible was going to cure all of his injury worries just like that. Of course you can see that differently.
    And with misinterpretation I meant the VD reader who posted exactly what you've quoted, a while ago.

    But still, I think the situation is different now.

  22. Thanks Julia! But I still believe that he doesn’t have the right/professional people surrounding him…like trainer, coach…
    It’s simple… “You get what you pay for”

  23. Well, I was hoping for years that one day he might get a non-Argentine coach. A fresh start, a new and different perspective... But - it's not going to happen. And the rest of his team are his friends, he's not going to dump them, even if things aren't going well.

  24. He should take Agassi if hes up for it,the perfect example of a man playing great in his 30s.

  25. I'm not advocating thinness as a cure-all because he is not naturally thin. However, working with his natural physique, which is more small-to-medium size, thee would have been better results in terms of physical health.

  26. As much as I love my friends, I would not hire them to work for me. That's one. Two, not every person from your country, speaking your language, can represent you well.

  27. For David it's obviously important to work and travel with people he likes and can talk to. As I've said, I spent years hoping he might get a coach who's not part of the "gaucho posse". But well - his career, his rules.

  28. As for the competence of David's friends, i.e. his team, I can't possibly make any judgements about that. All I can say is that Angel Ruiz-Cotorro seems to think very highly of them, especially Diego Rodriguez.

  29. I would love to know what David's day to day workouts and training regimen is like (on court and off). Maybe then, we could get more clues to his physical condition.
    But, I don't think we'll ever know.

    One important thing I heard by Brad Gilbert (I believe it was during his commentating of David-Federer match);
    he believes that David's biggest problem, since the early years since David has been a pro, is that he never really trained hard enough. He didn't lay down a strong enough physical foundation to prevent all these type of physical problems. He doesn't say that David is lazy, but I think that he didn't train like a top 5 or so in the world should train.

    It was interesting to hear. I sort of believe the same thing. My guess is that there are 25 or more players that train harder than him. He relies mostly on natural talent, but that's not going to last that long.

  30. That's what all kinds of people have said about David for as long as I can remember. I'm not sure Brad Gilbert knows how much David really does or doesn't train. But I know that I don't so I'm not going to make assumptions.

  31. Interesting comments, Joe and Tiffany. I have often had my doubts about "David's team." But like you, Julia, I don't know what he does or doesn't do regarding his training routine. Six or seven years ago I did a feature story on a major league pitcher who was coming back from a fusion of several discs in his neck. One of the things I remember he told me about his rehab was how intensely he worked to strengthen his core - even while he was still wearing a neck brace. The idea was to prevent any other further injuries to his body. When he started to pitch again he said he was in the best shape of his life. I'm not so sure David ever did that core strengthening. But since his camp is always so silent, none of know whether he did or not. It certainly seems like it's an integral part of any elite athlete's fitness.

  32. Joe,
    Silence is louder than sound sometimes.

  33. It's the commentators and journalists who like to say David doesn't train enough. It's other players and coaches, the ones who actually get to see him training all the time, who say he trains just as much as anybody else.

  34. Tiffany - not sure what you're implying.
    Silence means that maybe his training group is not doing much o/wise we would have heard about hard he works?
    or maybe silence means he has lots of "issues" and would prefer to keep us all uninformed. The "issues" are all sorts of injuries and "slacking off" type activities - maybe.

    It's strange, on one hand it seems David did great to climb back to the top 20 last year and put in some level of work. On the other hand, I feel like there is some lack of commitment. Maybe it's the lack of news that I associate with lack of commitment. Also, it seems like all the top 10-20 players work very intensely and it's somewhat well publicized what they do; but David, we are always in the dark about *everything*!!!
    Maybe he has something to hide?

    Julia, I hear what you'r saying about Brad Gilbert, but he's one guy I trust a little more than others and much more than reporters or journalists. He lives and breathes with the guys on the tour or at least use to when he worked with Agassi. I don't take him to be the type of person to make things up or exaggerate. Maybe he is going on hearsay though -- but I do feel he makes his own judgements.

    Julia, just read your last comment on how players and coaches say he does indeed train very hard. Hmm....well, I hope this is true. I'd like to hear more verification of this. You may have more info on this than the rest of us.
    I do notice you've mentioned he should change his training group/advisers. Maybe that's the main problem and he is not getting much benefit from training and therapy.

  35. John - yeah, I like that story about the pitcher. Great athletes who come back from injuries have lots of similar stories.
    I rememember the one about how Thomas Muster hit forehands sitting in a wheelchair while recovering from some car accident. I think he came back to do great.
    That's what I want to hear from David.

  36. Tough to really say how much a player on the ATP tour really has time to practice,its pretty much every week either travel or tournament,its kind of like the NBA,during the season theres not that much practice time,its mostly just games and traveling and shootarounds.And I mean David is 29 years old,he wont get better,hes not up and coming and 20 years old,and I mean fitness is tough to work on during the season,what he could do i train really hard during December,just fitness,which I dont know does he do that or not.

  37. Yeah, Joe, I pretty much think Brad Gilbert is a player's advocate. I remember last year at Washington he was raving about how he thought David was playing well enough to get back in the top five. There was another tournament earlier in the year - maybe Indian Wells - where when David pulled his shirt up to wipe his face Darren Cahill jokingly referred to him as one of the Teletubbies. He didn't have six-pack abs, but he certainly wasn't fat. So I think there are a variety of opinions. Personally, I don't think David is a slacker. Does he work as hard as Nadal? Hell no. But then, who does? David doesn't have a typical tennis player's body. He's broad shouldered and strong in the upper torso. If he didn't play tennis and bulked up some, he'd probably be a very good rugby player.

  38. John,
    No, I don't think David is a slacker. He's just not top 10 or top 15 ranking in "working hard" and toughening up his body... if there was such a ranking. The price he pays is that his body is vulnerable when he's pushed hard against top plalyers. He's ok when playing lower ranked guys, but against Federer or Hewitt (5 sets), he's in dangerous territory.
    I guess any player is in dangerous territory going a 5 setter like he did at the Australian Open.
    Look how many guys are getting hurt somewhat -- a large percentage.

    And yes, coming back from injuries is hard! Look at Hewitt. I just saw that Tommy Haas had to default in Newport. He's trying a comeback too.

    The only way to do it is with big time commitment.

    Yes, you're right, David has great upper body strength, and that's I think what keeps him in the game. He doesn't have to train much on the upper body, but the lower body, he needs to go through a period of serious road work.
    I'm assuming his surgeries permit this and plus he is still young enough to do it. 29 is not old. And, he doesn't have to necessarily "improve" the speed he had 5 years ago, just get back to it to be competitive and confident of avoiding injuries.

    Now if he wants to crack the top 4, that's another story. He'll have to do train extra. I think he still has the ability, but I don't think he has the desire or commitment anymore.
    I hope he proves me wrong though.

  39. Yeah, Joe, I would agree David is probably not in the top 10 of the "working hard" category. But like Julia said, we just don't know. If he does work that hard, he should certainly let somebody know. Silence his doubters. Hope he can be ready for Washington and play the rest of the summer hard-court swing.

  40. Adrian,
    You make a good point about training.
    Tour players don't do their major training while on the tour, I believe.
    They have periods of a copuple week or more on their own where they do "building up" work. They break down their body and rest it up over a long period which you can't do in between a match or two every week.
    It's hard to mix up tournaments and building a strong physical foundation.

    So, ever since David's last surgery, I don't think he's put in enough time to build back up before going back to tournaments. He doesn't seem to really have a base. I don't think he's built one back up. I suspect he keeps coming back to play a little too early and therefor eis always fighting reoccuring injuries. He's not totally out of shape (which is why he can win easy rounds), but he's still to frail for top 20 level.

  41. I'll just add this - it's not about David hiding or having to hide anything or silencing his doubters. The English-speaking media is of zero importance to David. And the Argentine writers criticise him for very different things.

    I think he has always been frail. Injuries have always been part of his career. But the hip surgery has apparently led to something like an injury pattern. And that needs to stop.

  42. Julia, interesting point about his attitude on the English media. Not sure if he just doesn't care or has some sort of resentment to them.

    In the US, there is interest in him if for no other reason that there are a large number of Argentinians who are interested in him.

    Anyway, for me, I'm just looking to get info on his training habits, routines, how much he trains on and off the court, etc.
    I guess you're saying that he is willing to give all this information to whoever asks, but in Argentina, he is not asked these type of questions.
    ..and maybe in the US he's out of their radar and doesn't even get interviewed much.

    I do notice some of this type of information may come through the trainer or coaches of some of the top players. But, I don't see any interviews with anyone else other than David.

  43. What I'm saying is that David has a long history of not cooperating with the media. And that the Argentine media is more important and less easy to ignore. He has done more interviews since Mar del Plata but he usually doesn't give away much, also not about the state he's in. And they don't ask about his training in detail because they don't share those suspicions.
    So I can only tell you what I've heard/read from other players and also from Argentine journalists.