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Game, Set and Batch of Injuries; Too many matches in a congested schedule for Tennis’ elite

 

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With the Australian Open, the first grand slam of the year days away, the world’s top-six ranked players, including Petra Kvitova, have all retired from warm-up events in Australia in the past week .Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska are the latest players to suffer setbacks before the Australian Open, with Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza – have also had injuries this week. French Open runner-up Lucie Safarova has joined the Australian Open casualty ward, withdrawing from the event as she continues to battle a bacterial infection.

On the men’s side Roger Federer has been laid low for much of last week with a bug, world No.9 Richard Gasquet is already out with a back injury and fellow Frenchman Gael Monfils (leg) was an early withdrawal from the Hopman Cup. Gasquet, who is suffering with a back injury, has joined Juan Monaco and Australian youngster Thanasi Kokkinakis in pulling out of the year’s first grand slam.

This has sparked the debate once more that players are putting their bodies on the line repeatedly without adequate rest and rehabilitation. The combination of an ever dwindling off season, general overtraining and the increasing exposure to the unforgiving concrete courts, that dominate the circuit in the modern era, are the main causes of players breaking down.

Less than a week into 2016, injuries and illness are already prevalent as can be seen from the following:

  • Women’s world No.1 Serena Williams (knee)
  • Women’s world No.2 Simona Halep (achilles tendon)
  • Women’s world No.3 Garbine Muguruza (foot)
  • Women’s world No.4 Maria Sharapova (forearm)
  • Women’s world No.9 Lucie Safarova (bacterial infection)
  • Men’s world No.3 Roger Federer (bug)
  • Men’s world No.9 Richard Gasquet (back)
  • Men’s world No.16 Gael Monfils (leg)
  • Samantha Stosur (wrist)
  • Casey Dellacqua (concussion)
  • Ajla Tomljanovic (stomach)
  • Thanasi Kokkinakis (shoulder)

It is almost certain that before the first Grand Slam of the year, there will be numerous players who withdraw or cannot play, whilst when the event starts, due to the sweltering conditions there will be player retirements and withdrawals through exhaustion or injury.

With the Australian Open about to begin on Monday 18th January the majority of players will have allowed themselves three weeks off in December in preparation for the Australian summer. Tennis has no off-season like many other professional sports. So for a lot of the players they will still have been grinding it out in tournaments until the end of November.

Temperatures in Australia often reach 38/40c degrees making it horrible to sit and watch let alone play!
A combination of the pressure to satisfy tournament sponsors, appease TV and Media schedules, win prize money and secure ranking points is compelling players to compete too regularly and in turn they are putting themselves at a far greater risk of injury.

Top 10 players must commit to specific WTA tournaments, exclusive of the Grand Slams and the year-end WTA Championships, which include the four Premier Mandatory tournaments, four of the Premier 5’s and at least two 700-level tournaments. A player has the option of skipping one of the Premier 5s annually, but must enter the one skipped in the next year. It is not hard to grasp what a gruelling schedule that becomes in practice for Tennis’ elite.

In addition further pressure is added as 2016 is an Olympic year and the Rio Olympics have to be fitted into the events schedule. None of this takes account of Davis Cup and Fed Cup which also adds to the scheduling.

The lure of money and keeping sponsors happy puts pressure on the majority of players to play 20 or more tournaments in a calendar year.

The system is set up to make money at tournaments; there is a conflict between players being pushed to make it for themselves and for others and having enough time to rest. It’s an important problem which has not been addressed properly.

The common view of Sports orthopaedic and medical specialists is that the surge in injury-related retirements during play is the result in players entering too many tournaments. The problem is not that they play too much; it’s the way the schedule is set up. Players frequently go through long stints, six weeks or more without a break. Often the tournament play, coupled with the rigors of travel and practicing every day can be too much and most players could benefit from some time off.

The ATP and WTA claim that they have addressed the problem. Both have education programmes emphasising the need for planning a schedule and preparation. The ATP provides full-time trainers for which demand has markedly increased, as do the WTA for the women, though there are many more personal trainers on the men’s tour.

There are the added issues that players hit the ball so hard, the rackets have had such an effect and there is now so much “strength in depth” in both the men’s and women’s games. In addition, matches are tougher on the body and there are few easy ones any more. Players are learning about the balance of preparation, prevention and recovery and rehab. The ATP and WTA would argue that stats don’t show there are more injuries than before; it’s that several high-profile players have had injuries. This catches people’s attention.

The WTA stats over the last five years indicate a doubling of on-site withdrawals. More injuries have been caused by changes in the modern game. There is a need to rationalise the calendar better around the Grand Slams, with constant changes of surface, culture and of time zones influence the body a lot more than is realised.

In addition players are playing a lot more tennis and it’s a 12 – month sport now. The technology is such that they are more prone to injuries and the majority of injuries seem to be over-use problems.
Similarly, the elite junior players from pre-puberty to late teens seem to pick up the same kind of injuries as the elite groups. There are often changes in the dominant shoulders, with a reduced range of movement. There can be an asymmetry problem and postural changes.

That’s a warning for the professional tours if they allow undue pressure on players to compete. It is a difficult dilemma, but if an authority sets up a new system which penalises a player for not turning up, you have to wonder whether it is better.

The pressure to satisfy tournament sponsors, TV and Media schedules, as well as, to win prize money and ranking points is making players compete too much and run a far greater risk of getting injured. Will the time come when the players start taking the administrators to court?

The ATP/WTA need to take responsibility and put players’ health high on the agenda. Otherwise the situation might give way to litigation, as we have seen in football. There could be specialists who would come forward and say “This guy should rest”. You can speculate how long it will be before a player who feels forced into playing might turn round and sue. It might sound farfetched, but you can imagine it happening!

If you require any legal advice surrounding litigation issues please do not hesitate to contact the Choix team.

Adrian Rattenbury – Sports Consultant and Head of the European Registry of Tennis Professionals (RPT)

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CHOIX YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS!

Many thanks to Georgia Horrocks and Zara Khan, LLM LPC Students at the University of Law – Leeds for this guest blog post written following a workshop by the Choix team at the University of Law.

As law students, making an impression with a firm can be the stepping stone to a successful career, which is what the Choix Team emphasised at their recent workshop.

WHO ARE CHOIX?

Established to meet the specific needs of professionals within the sport, entertainment and media sectors, Choix is a unique concept that brings together a number of specialist, ‘best in class’ organisations providing a bespoke service delivering their expertise to a variety of leading figures in the entertainment, media and sports industry. Choix, delivered an insightful talk titled: ‘How to be Career Ready for a Life in Law!’ lead by Stephen Lownsbrough, Deborah Ogden and Andy Boyde for a range of students, which helped us prepare for a career in law.

WHICH LAW FIRM?

Stephen, who has been named in the Legal 500 for over 15 years for Sport, has worked within the sports industry for over 38 years and is well-known for his work in sports law, both regionally and nationally. He began the talk by emphasizing the important of researching the firms you apply to for a training contract. It is necessary to find out what areas they practice in – many of the larger firms rarely dip into private client work, so this can impact which type of firm you apply for.

The Legal 500 and Chambers guides give a good feel for the different law firms and what to expect from each one, but ultimately the best way to find out if a law firm is for you is to experience it for yourself.

Stephen touched on the importance of being in control of your reputation, a topic which all three speakers emphasized throughout the talk. People tend to buy into others they like, so it is important to be in control of situations in order to display your best self.

PERSONAL BRAND

Deborah Ogden highlighted and explained the importance of a ‘personal brand’ and how to make an impact. Deborah, a trained lawyer and previous College of Law student in York, has over 15 years’ experience working with top athletes and well known sporting clubs. Her role entailed aiding in the enhancement of the brand, and she stressed how important this was to us, as law students.

The first 5 seconds of meeting someone are crucial to making a good impression. You will be instantly judged and assessed by a person’s gut reaction, which is why it is so crucial. It can take up to a further 20 meetings to change a poor first impression, a worrying thought! A first impression includes a person’s appearance, how they sound and even their smell! Deborah also emphasized just how important a solid handshake is – a good handshake includes palm contact and direct eye contact. She spoke about how your body language can send out a message, so it is important to send the right one. Walk into a room with a purpose and act like you are meant to be there, as body language is an outer expression of what’s going on in the mind.

Deborah struck a chord with the students and emphasized the need to embrace our individuality. She shared a fun way for us all to express ourselves before an interview and that need every law student has to have a ‘power pose’. Standing strong for 2 minutes before an important meeting can subconsciously increase the positive receptors in the brain. She also suggested everyone should have a ‘smile file’, which is a small collection of positive messages you have received, whether that be comments on a piece of work, a tweet, an email, and so on. The file is a consolation for when you have a bad day, that can give you an extra boost to carry on.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Lastly, we heard from Andy Boyde, who is a former professional rugby player, and has used his specialism within the industry to qualify as a Solicitor.

Andy showed us the importance of being socially aware of what we post and the consequences of this. 4 out of 5 employers will check your online presence, and first impressions are often before you have even walked through the door. He emphasized the need for checking privacy settings, as everyone knows it isn’t just you who can add images or post comments on your profile.

A professional image needs to be carried across all social media platforms, not just LinkedIn. However, employers know we are all human and use many social media outlets, so we should not completely hide ourselves, but ensure pictures and statuses are not inappropriate. Andy went on to show us his profile, to demonstrate what he meant. He showed us how an old photo of him drinking and socializing with his friends can crop up unexpectedly. Contrast this with his current profile picture, a professional head shot, which makes him instantly look astute.

CONCLUSION

The workshop emphasized the need in doing research of each firm you apply to, as the firm you pick is as important to you as the trainee they pick to them. One of the best ways to put yourself in front of law firms is to network. Remember that there is no perfect moment to break the ice, be confident in yourself and you have nothing to fear. However, do your homework with the firm before approaching them, and ask interesting questions, in order to leave an impression with the representative you spoke to. With more competition than ever, it is absolutely necessary to stand out, by developing your personal brand.