A tennis Grand Slam demands peak physical condition from its players, but since the Australian Open commenced on Monday, February 8, players have crashed like the final fatal move in Jenga as a result of injury.
Already, Novak Djokovic sustained an abdominal injury after a fall in his third round match against Taylor Fritz; Grigor Dimitrov suffered from a back spasm during a quarter-final loss to the qualifier Aslan Karatsev, and prior to that Dimitrov progressed simply by besting third seed Dominic Thiem, who suffered an unspecified injury that brought his otherwise impressive form to a sudden (and heartbreaking) end. Add to the mix Pablo Carreno Busta and Matteo Berrettini, both ranked in the world’s top 20, who retired with abdominal issues, along with Rafael Nadal who picked up a back injury early during his time in Adelaide, and you have the sport’s best stars requiring medical attention and urgent Physio intervention.
While from the outset you could question whether these players were simply ill-prepared, perhaps spending more time on TikTok during the off-season than on the court, the spike in injuries has led many to question the quarantine restrictions and COVID-19 regulations players had to endure prior to the tournament’s commencement.
Despite taking to the court with his sustained injuries, Djokovic has advanced to the quarter-finals after defeating Alexander Zverev 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (6). Speaking to the press in a post-match interview however, the Serb used his time to question whether the strict lockdown requirements players are having to subject themselves to in order to play the international calendar are having an adverse affect on their fitness.
“There’s too many injuries,” he said. “I’m just hoping that this is all temporary so that we can go back to what we are used to without interruptions of practice. The 14-day quarantine, people don’t realise but I think the amount of injuries during this tournament has shown how much of an effect it has on the players’ bodies. It’s taken its toll, unfortunately, for both of us.”
Djokovic explained that players have now been engaged in discussions about the doubts of where the tour goes after the conclusion of the Open in Australia. “Talking to a lot of players, the majority of the players just don’t want to go ahead with the season if we are going to have to quarantine most of the tournaments. So this is something that should be discussed, like as of now. I think council, I spoke to some of the council members, and they are saying they have extensive discussions about that with ATP management.”
Proposing an alternative, Djokovic suggested the tennis governing body should look to the NBA for inspiration and the bubble the sporting code established to ensure players were protected from COVID-19, but still had the best facilities available for their physical training and recovery. Djokovic believes tennis should follow suit and set up a more permanent base where players can compete in the same place. “I’m not pointing fingers at anybody,” he said, “it’s just I’m speaking what is going on, speaking the truth, am speaking the reality, and we have to talk about it.”
He added, “We have to find a way, you know, whether it’s something like an NBA bubble, because I heard some players talk about that, and I don’t mind to discuss about that kind of idea. Select one place and we play all the tournaments on that surface and that place.”