Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

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Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby PKBasu » Fri Mar 24, 2017 7:25 am

India's best-ever woman tennis player, Sania Mirza, played five years on the WTA women's singles tour. She was injured every year, and needed surgery three times during those five years -- albeit while staying in the top-100 throughout, and in the top-50 for much of the time. But after 5 injury-plagued years, she chose to focus on doubles, winning six Slam titles and staying atop the world women's doubles rankings for two full years. (Not a bad outcome, I'd say, but the cause of much sarcasm from many compatriots ranging from Sanjay Manjrekar to Atithee and other skeptics here :p ).

Yuki Bhambri, our best male player of the current decade, won the Australian Open junior title 8 years ago (when he was 16 and a half years old), but has not played a single 12-month period injury-free in the subsequent 8 years. The longest injury-free period of his career lasted 9 months, and ended with him ranked 88 in singles; but getting to that point had taken so much out of him that he got injured, tried to come back (for a 3 month period) and then had to spend another 6 months off the circuit. He is now 3 months into yet another comeback. His first injury-free period (about 7 months) had taken him to #174 at the end of September 2012, his next one took him to #143 in February 2014, and finally we had the longest period that took him to #88 in November 2015. The patterns show that it takes 18 months to climb back and scale a new career-high. (So this time, end-May around the time of the French Open should be when Yuki gets to a new career-high, if he can stay injury-free).

Our most accomplished male tennis singles player of the 21st century to-date, Somdev DevVarman, was renowned for his physical fitness -- which offset the obvious lacunae in his game (such as a weak serve, and lack of real power in his groundstrokes). But eventually he too succumbed to physical frailties and injury, retiring before he was 31.

Saketh Myneni is already 30+, is effectively India's #2 for the past year, but is plagued by injury. His career culminated in a 5-set match in R1 of the 2016 US Open (his first main draw match in any ATP tournament) where he was undone on match-point by the umpire overruling the linesman (who had ruled that Saketh had won the match), with no video referral available on his court to adjudicate the matter. Since then, he has basically been injured (with a couple of appearances on tour ending prematurely).

Our next best singles player, Ramkumar Ramanathan, has been largely injury-free but has one glaring weakness (his backhand) that players in the top-150 can ruthlessly exploit.

Our fittest-ever tennis player, Leander Paes, rarely gets injured (apart from one major scare, when he had worms in his brain, which had initially been misdiagnosed as brain cancer). He has thus had an incredibly long and successful career, with 20 Slam titles. But he came of age during the transition from wood to synthetic racquets, and his coaches basically taught him how to master the old-fashioned tennis of the wooden age, not the new-fangled strokes (of an almost completely different sport) required in the age of synthetic racquets. His fitness has enabled him to overcome the enormous disadvantages of his initial tennis preparation (for which the Britannia Amritraj Tennis academy has a lot to answer for :p ).

Basically, all future tennis players will need to learn Leander Paes' fitness regimen/techniques (no doubt helped by the fact that his dad is a sport-medicine doctor, and both he and Leander's mom were Olympian athletes) -- while learning to play tennis at least along the lines that Yuki mastered.

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby rajitghosh » Fri Mar 24, 2017 10:12 am

If we go back a little, we can add a few more to that list. Mahesh Bhupathi was one of the slowest movers on court and had injuries and surgeries as he went along, Vijay Amritraj had asthma and could never last 5 sets, moreover in the early 1980s he had a severe tennis elbow problem (mentioned in his autobiography), Ramesh and Ramanathan Krishnan both played with significant paunches apart from the fact that neither could serve.
If you go through the tennisarchives.com page on Ramanathan Krishnan, you would find he hardly played in 1964 and 1966 (in 66, he only played Davis Cup and India reached the Challenge Round). I don't have enough information to know whether he missed 2 significant years due to injury.

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby Varma » Fri Mar 24, 2017 4:34 pm

Karan was another player who didn't go anywhere close to the promise he had shown, and the flashes of brilliance on display during his transition from juniors to the main tour. He too had a major injury that required surgery (back?) which virtually put a premature end to his pro career even before it took off.

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby gbelday » Fri Mar 24, 2017 4:56 pm

I've been pretty impressed with how Harsh managed to stay relatively injury free. Knowing what I know of Harsh, he must have done something right.

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby Prashant » Fri Mar 24, 2017 5:37 pm

I think the groundwork has to be laid very early - basically both good habits and good practices need to be inculcated when they are kids. For workout/exercise/nutrition/sleep habits/recovery etc. By the time they are out on the tour, it is often too late. I understand that you can definitely dramatically improve fitness as an adult, but if you don't start out with the good habits, you will end up injury prone...

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby Omkara » Fri Mar 24, 2017 7:43 pm

gbelday wrote:I've been pretty impressed with how Harsh managed to stay relatively injury free. Knowing what I know of Harsh, he must have done something right.


Isn't it true that Harsh wanted to hit the next level of fitness and got injured in the process?

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby arjun2761 » Fri Mar 24, 2017 10:36 pm

gbelday wrote:I've been pretty impressed with how Harsh managed to stay relatively injury free. Knowing what I know of Harsh, he must have done something right.


Yes, he does appear to have been relatively injury free except perhaps at the end. However, my impression (and with a caveat that I never saw him play) was that he was a smaller guy who was more of a finesse player.

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby gbelday » Fri Mar 24, 2017 11:32 pm

arjun2761 wrote:However, my impression (and with a caveat that I never saw him play) was that he was a smaller guy who was more of a finesse player.

Yeah, that's true. He's more of a Federer than a Nadal (you know what I mean).

Omkara, hmm, sorry I don't recall that. He still does look great though.

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby gbelday » Fri Mar 24, 2017 11:39 pm

Prashant wrote:I think the groundwork has to be laid very early - basically both good habits and good practices need to be inculcated when they are kids. For workout/exercise/nutrition/sleep habits/recovery etc. By the time they are out on the tour, it is often too late. I understand that you can definitely dramatically improve fitness as an adult, but if you don't start out with the good habits, you will end up injury prone...


I can't agree more! I don't know how good the coaches back in India are but this is where AITA needs to step in and build a "player development" program that identifies and develops a few talented kids (10-12 year olds) with some long term goals in mind. There's no guarantees that such a program would produce any world class players but it's pretty much guaranteed that we won't see any world class players without such initiatives.

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby prasen9 » Sat Mar 25, 2017 7:17 pm

One idea. Don't know if this is good or bad. Or implementable or not. Fitness is not only the bane of Indian tennis. It is the bane of several Indian sportsmen in several different sports. For example, in cricket, hockey, etc. Now, each of these sports have to have their own solutions. But, given that it is a cross-cutting issue, can SAI do something? Maybe there should be a Centre of Excellence for Fitness in a national sports academy. They will hire top fitness coaches, will be the clearinghouse of the latest and best fitness-related known information, maybe pursue research on fitness, adequate training and rest, nutrition, etc. *And* have a significant charter of training state-level coaches on these issues. While requiring the state level coaches to take the word to the grass-root coaches. Do we already have something like this? Is it feasible? Any comments why this may be a good or bad idea?

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby prasen9 » Sat Mar 25, 2017 7:20 pm

gbelday wrote:He still does look great though.
He comes from a sporting family not only from his paternal side but also from his maternal side. So, he has great genes. And, they seem to be a smart family. So, they have possibly knowledge about the importance of fitness to sports and life in general. Maybe some of them made sure he understood the issue of fitness. Maybe someone early on made him go through the drills. And, I am sure he got pretty good support from Minnesota's tennis program. Here in the U.S., even the high school track and tennis programs have pretty decent fitness coaches and get good advice from the sport-related coaches. So, at least he listened.

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby Observer » Wed Apr 05, 2017 4:59 pm

Tennis being an injury prone sport would always see athletes getting hurt. However, I see a major limiting factor in the Indian system:
There is perhaps a problem with the systemic selection procedure. Because the tennis in India does not penetrate densely and deeply enough, it doesn't weed out injury prone players early enough. The nature of the system is such that it provides highly unequal opportunities at the grassroot levels, which effectively results in selection of a suboptimal set of candidates at the next level. Thereafter all opportunities are limited to this selected set. I think reducing the chance of randomness and making the initial selection process more fair is the most impactful thing to improve odds of producing more sturdy players.

But then its a very difficult problem to solve, we need a lot more Mahesh Bhupati Foundations. Also given the costs involved in tennis, it might make more sense for foundations to focus on less expensive sports. Foundations like the Olympic Gold Quests could have a much larger impact by sponsoring players in less expensive sports.

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby PKBasu » Wed Apr 19, 2017 2:43 am

arjun2761 wrote:
gbelday wrote:I've been pretty impressed with how Harsh managed to stay relatively injury free. Knowing what I know of Harsh, he must have done something right.


Yes, he does appear to have been relatively injury free except perhaps at the end. However, my impression (and with a caveat that I never saw him play) was that he was a smaller guy who was more of a finesse player.


Harsh was fitter than most, but he too got injured soon after he reached his peak ranking of 222 when he was around 27. He had to take nearly a year off, came back with an injury protected ranking, played a year of singles but couldn't make it back anywhere near his previous peak, switched to doubles exclusively for the next one year, and then decided to retire at 30+ when he felt he wasn't likely to make a breakthrough to top 80 in doubles in a hurry (that he had dominated Challenger doubles during that year and a half but won very few tour matches, partly also because of bad luck -- like Dolgopolov getting injured when they were supposed to partner each other -- contributed to his decision; had he stuck on, he would have done better at doubles than DiPu I think, but he didn't want to grind on at that level in doubles, I believe).

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Re: Fitness: the bane of Indian tennis

Postby Varma » Wed Apr 19, 2017 4:06 am

Harsh has to the most unluckiest Indian Tennis player ever. Even though he was a hardworking player and meticulous planner, that next step he was supposed to take and the next level he was supposed to reach were always tantalizing. He is the Indian version of "Tantulus". Unfortunate, but true!

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