shoulder injury

Challenge Accepted: My Workout with Vera Zvonareva

The morning after Wimbledon’s now-infamous “Black Wednesday” was a hazy time for most; fans and pundits were trying to come out from beneath the rubble left by the shocking number of upsets.

It is often said that exercise can help clear the mind and aid in decision-making. However, burning calories (as well as one’s own sense of dignity) with former World No. 2 and two-time Grand Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva did little to restore normalcy to an already-crazy week.

In a partnership with Fila, Zvonareva hosted a racquet sports oriented fitness class with Miami-based trainer Greg Corso in Manhattan, at the Upper East Side’s Sports Club LA. For the former Olympic Bronze medalist (and the group of reporters participating), the forty-five minute class was only a taste of the Russian’s off-court conditioning routine as she works towards a comeback from a shoulder injury.

“During the off-season, we train…probably four hours on the tennis court and at least two-three hours off the court,” Zvonareva remarked in a Q&A session following the class.

The course, held on the Sport Club’s roof, emphasized the importance of the full-body workout required by a professional athlete throughout the year. While most of the exercises were aerobic in nature, Corso and Zvonareva also made use of resistance bands and free-weights as heavy as ten pounds that morphed the burn into a small fire felt by the admittedly unprepared press core.

“To prevent [injuries], we do a full-body workout, but with lighter weights, with [exercise] bands just to keep ourselves conditioned.”

The workout was conceived with the help of videos taken during Zvonareva’s actual workouts with her coach, which adds a stamp of authenticity most fitness classes cannot boast.

“My job was to figure out how to adapt [those sessions] into a group exercise setting, with a big crowd and a limited space,” said Corso, who looked to the resistance bands (strapped to the ankles) as the key to making the class work for racquet-sport athletes who require practice with lateral movement.

Zvonareva agreed. “Using the bands helps a lot, because then you can do two steps, right/left, and you’re getting that movement that you want…you don’t need to run across the whole tennis court!”

The class required constant movement under the Manhattan sun, an essential feature for the athlete who will need to draw on that stamina over the course of a long tennis match.

“The thing about tennis is that you always have to give 100% every point, and it is very difficult because even if you’re tired, you still have to play the point at the professional level…you lose a couple of points, you lose your serve, you lose the game, it can cost you the whole match…[During this class], you have that hour but you have to keep pushing yourself.”

For the exhausted students, Zvonareva reminded us that it wasn’t always as effortless as she made the workout appear. On the exercise called the “Burpee,” she recalled, “I remember when I was 12 years old, my coach would do something like this and we were all dying…as soon as he turns away we’re like ‘stop it!’ It’s a very difficult one, but it helps a lot.”

The former Russian No. 1 has been off the court for nearly a year, last playing at the London Olympics. After getting surgery on her shoulder in February, she returned to school, and received a degree in International Economic Relations. She flew into New York the next day to conduct the class. Though looking in phenomenal shape, she admitted it was difficult to balance fitness with studying.

“I was studying so much that I had no energy to do fitness, it was so difficult for me…I was doing some, but not every day because once you start reading you keep going and going and it’s midnight already…when I’m playing tennis five hours a day, I still have energy to go and do fitness, but studying…it was so difficult!”

Keeping up with the Tour has been difficult for the college graduate, but she tries to keep in touch with friends like Elena Vesnina. For those wondering about that comeback, Zvonareva left the media in no suspense.

“I’m heading to Arizona, that’s where I will start my training. I’m meeting with my physiotherapist there and hopefully he will give me a green light to start training. I don’t know how long it will take but maybe three-four months before I can start playing at 100%.”

Zvonareva was a gracious host and encouraging teacher to her tired and, later, very sore students. The experience was a tremendous insight into the mind and work ethic of one of most disciplined and well-conditioned players on the WTA Tour, illustrating the key difference between “player” and “professional.”

“Unmasking Anastasia:” Rodionova, Tennis’ Cartoon Villain

Charleston’s illustrious Family Circle Cup began yesterday, and just off the main stadium, fans were treated to a first round match that had all the drama and suspense of a Saturday morning cartoon. Such an analogy may sound insulting, but in a match between Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Anastasia Rodionova, spectators’ notions of “good” and “evil” were as binary as black and white.

In one corner was Mattek-Sands. With her penchant for knee socks, eye black, and odd fashion choices, the veteran American certainly has the look of a modern-day superhero. Her struggles with injuries and debilitating food allergies have also played a role in endearing herself to the tennis public as she attempts to regain the form that took her as high as No. 30 in 2011.

If Mattek-Sands is the hero, then the Russian-born Australian Rodionova is our unabashed villain. Standing at 5’5”, she has become notorious for her on-court antics and bratty demeanor. A journeywoman who frequents the outer courts of most major tournaments, Rodionova berates umpires and lines people alike for their perceived incompetence and inability to properly officiate her matches. It has been questioned whether those antics have stalled an otherwise promising career; a successful doubles player, Rodionova possesses an all-court game that is often as aggressive as she is.

But to question that is to misunderstand the Aussie entirely. Indeed, she has the propensity to lose her patience, but rarely does that lead to a full-on implosion. In a world where players are concerned with likeability, Rodionova not only embraces, but truly enjoys the villainous role she adopts during matches, and like a WWE wrestler, uses the crowd’s venom against her as fuel for her own fire.

Against Mattek-Sands, she simply refused to be put away in a match that, at three hours, forty-two minutes, was the longest of the year. With the crowd firmly behind the American, Rodionova recovered from a set down to steal the second in a tiebreaker, but quickly fell behind a break in the third. Playing Mattek-Sands tough on break points (she would save 13 of 20 by match’s end), she bounded back to win three games in a row. As our villain was in her glory, our hero was in despair, and called out her husband during the changeover to try and develop a new strategy.

All of this before Rodionova injured her thigh, and here is where the show really began.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nrXHY3LdyU&t=1m54s

For Rodionova, the type who can become enraged by an inconsiderate gust of wind, an injury (and the ineptitude of those attempting to treat her) was simply unacceptable. Dissatisfied with the trainer’s method of alleviating her pain, Rodionova hopped and hobbled away as best she could, throwing a water bottle and gesticulating wildly at the supervisor.

It was as if, after all these years, Rodionova finally had a legitimate excuse for her curmudgeonly behavior, and she planned on making the most of it. When a line call was overturned in her favor, she exclaimed, “Call the freaking ball!” (a veteran move for a player well aware of what counts as an audible obscenity). Holding a match point on the Mattek-Sands serve at 4-5, it would have appeared totally logical for our villain to let out a cackle had she converted.

But she would not convert. The match would go to a deciding tiebreaker (as if it could have ended any other way), and the injury and Mattek-Sands became too much for Rodionova, who faded quickly from 2-2.

From the cartoonish impression many have of Rodionova, one would have expected her to react to this undoubtedly painful loss with a racquet toss or a shriek of disdain: anything in a last-ditch attempt to steal the spotlight. Instead, she reminded us all of her humanity when she met Mattek-Sands at the net in tears. Our hero was gracious in victory, comforting Rodionova as the two approached the umpire.

A lot of this analysis is tongue-in-cheek, but it has been said that parody can be a mirror to the human soul. There is a tendency to turn these athletes, these people, into stereotypes or one-dimensional cutouts based on how they act over the course of a three-hour tennis match. “Mattek-Sands comforted Rodionova because she is always good, and Rodionova yelled at the trainer because she is always evil.”

But just as Mattek-Sands’ jubilation showed us how much the win meant, Rodionova’s tears showed us how much the win would have meant, and before we criticize and name-call, it is essential that we recognize that her desire to win is no less pure (or more offending) than that of a perhaps more subdued rival.

Kimiko Date-Krumm’s Fairy Tale Run at Toray Pacific Open – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Comeback Cut Short – The much-anticipated return of Juan Martin del Potro and his potential third-round clash with Rafael Nadal were quickly derailed as little Ollie Rochus cut down the big Argentine (who stands a foot taller than the Belgian) in straight sets in the opening round of the PTT Thailand Open 7-6 (7), 6-4. Despite the loss, there was still much to cheer about for Juan Martin del Potro, who was playing his first match in eight months. For those lucky enough to see the match, it was apparent that he wasn’t afraid to go after the ball, as he appeared to be clocking many of his ground strokes with the same ferocity that took him to the US Open title. He wasn’t without his chances either, holding a set point in the opening set, though lacking in match play, he can hardly be blamed for feeling a few extra nerves at those crucial moments. But the biggest positive of all is that Juan Martin del Potro reported that his wrist felt perfect at the conclusion of the match and is looking forward to working in another 5-6 tournaments before the 2010 season is officially in the books.

A Very Happy Birthday – Kimiko Date Krumm has been one of the interesting storylines over the course of this season, but this week, she was truly one of the feel good stories. Playing in her native Japan, Date Krumm collected one of the biggest scalps in her comeback to-date, taking out defending champion Maria Sharapova in three sets on the eve of her 40th birthday. Bouncing back from her grueling victory, she then celebrated her birthday by defeating Daniela Hantuchova when Hantuchova was forced to retire with a shoulder injury down 0-4 in the third set. Sadly, Date Krumm’s fairytale run came to a halt at the hands of 2010 Roland Garros Champion Francesca Schiavone, but keep an eye on the Japanese veteran. The odds are still highly stacked against her, and it’s certainly going to take the right kind of field with a little bit of luck, but Date Krumm may just break Billie Jean King’s record and soon become the oldest female to win a title on the WTA Tour.

Proud Papa – Struggling with knee injuries, the bulk of 2010 has been a nightmare of a year for young Frenchman Gilles Simon, but he’s had much to smile about as of late. He and his fiancée recently celebrated the birth of their first child together, and instead of acting as a further stumbling block to his career, as his fiancée feared it might, the new addition seems to have rejuvenated Simons’ game. He belatedly entered the Metz tournament in his home nation, and with his family there to cheer him on, he rolled to his first title of the season, trouncing Mischa Zverev 3 and 2 in the final. It’s still too early to tell, but hopefully this win means Simon has righted the ship and will once again become the contender he showed promise of over a year ago.

Plight Update – The women of Spain have taken their stand, it appears that the Spanish Tennis Federation has been forced to take notice. In an unprecedented move, the National Tennis Congress stated that there would be an upcoming conference in Pamplona devoted solely to hashing out the issues facing Spanish women’s tennis, including training opportunities for the top players and raising young talents. Of course, it’s too early to see what will or won’t come of this meeting, but it is a positive sign that the Spanish Federation is setting aside the time to seriously take a look at the issues. Given their success in the men’s game, there’s no reason to think that perhaps with a little bit more time and effort, they couldn’t see an increase in success achieved on the women’s side as well.

Injury Report – Foot injuries continue to make headlines as Belgian Kim Clijsters announced that she was forced to pull out of the China Open due to a foot infection she acquired after having a mole removed. This comes on the heels (no pun intended) of Serena Williams also calling off her whole Asian tour as a result of her own foot issues. And on the men’s side, Robby Ginepri will be forced to call off his season early due to a broken arm he sustained from a biking accident. Injuries are never a good thing, but at least these are not related to the length of the season.

IVANOVIC, DRUGS, INJURIES, DAVIS CUP AND NADAL: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson
No Fed Cup for Ana – I’m sure it was a difficult decision, but I fully support Ana Ivanovic’s move to sit out for Serbia in the upcoming Fed Cup tie with the Slovak Republic due to her poor run of form. The Serb has slipped all the way down to 58 in the rankings, and with the return of the two Belgians and the depth in women’s tennis continuing to grow, it’s going to be extremely difficult to muscle her way back into the Top 10.  Here’s hoping the break allows her to once again get all of her ducks in a row.

Drug Bust – No, this time it wasn’t a player testing positive for a banned substance, but American journeyman Wayne Odesnik did get caught red-handed in possession of human growth hormone (HGH). It will be interesting to see what punishment the ITF metes out for this one. I’m personally all for a two-year ban as opposed to throwing him out of the game altogether as some have suggested. It is a first offense, and quite frankly, if the guy were ranked inside the top 20 instead of barely inside the top 100, I don’t think other players would be clamoring for such a harsh punishment. To me, the interesting thing to see will be if Odesnik has been supplying other players with the HGH and if he names names.

More WTA Injuries – Serena Williams is continuing to nurse the knee injury she sustained at this year’s Australian Open, and now she is a doubt for the Italian Open. With the French Open looming, Serena will be hard pressed to get in some time on the dirt, and with Henin possibly licking her chops to add to her impressive Roland Garros tally, Serena had better get it in gear.  And speaking of Roland Garros champions, current defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova reportedly suffered a shoulder injury while competing in Miami. The Russian will be in a race against time to get fit for the clay court season where she can certainly inflict some damage on her competitors.

Deaf Ears – It was announced earlier this week that the ITF has not only voted, but has unanimously voted to keep the current Davis Cup format despite the World Cup proposal put forth by some of the game’s leading players. I had to shake my head at this one. Roger Federer rarely plays, and the same goes for Andy Murray, now Andy Roddick, now James Blake, and who knows how many others over the course of the season. It’s clear the system is broken, the players have attempted to propose a change, and despite that, as Roddick so candidly tweeted “in the most unshocking news of the day, the ITF does nothing” Well said, Andy.

Times Up – This wasn’t a news story, but I have to rant on this one. While watching tennis in Miami, the coverage once again included a “stopwatch” to track how much time Rafael Nadal takes between points. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga even complained to the chair umpire, stating he had winded Nadal and deserved to benefit from it, but was unable to due to the 40+ seconds Nadal took before playing the next point. Don’t get me wrong. Nadal is not the only player to abuse the clock, but certainly Nadal, along with Novak Djokovic, are some of the highest profile competitors to violate this rule. It infuriates me that the chair umpires don’t step in and start assessing warnings, point penalties, and game penalties if necessary. Other players manage to play within the allotted time, so they all should. To allow them to do otherwise is to allow them to cheat, by both physically and mentally shortchanging their opponents. It’s time the officials start enforcing the rules and put a stop to the clock eaters.

WILL BALANCED APPROACH TO LIFE WORK FOR OUDIN?

By Melina Harris

As I sat on the British table at the Professional Tennis Registry’s award ceremony last night at the Crowne Plaza, Hilton Head Island, we were informed that Brian de Villiers, coach of America’s new sweetheart, 18-year-old Melanie Oudin could not accept his award for PTR Touring Coach of the Year due to his commitments in supporting his young protégé in France during her impressive run at the Open GDF Suez tournament in Paris, which came to an end after a gutsy semifinal performance on Saturday against top seeded Elena Dementieva 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

De Villiers was given the award by the PTR based on Oudin’s meteoric rise into America’s consciousness as their No. 3 female player on the tour behind Serena and Venus Williams following her impressive run to the quarterfinals at last year’s US Open, when she dispatched of Dementieva, Petrova and Sharapova no less. Her two victories in the recent Fed Cup to give the United States a 4-1 win over France has not gone unnoticed by the American public desperate for someone to take over from the impressive Williams sisters. However the level-headed star recently commented, “I know people are hoping I’m the next up-and-coming American but I don’t read any of that, the blogs, the press, what anyone says. I just focus on myself and I already have my own goals. That’s what I’m concentrating on.”

After the recent ‘burn outs’ of Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova in their early twenties with career threatening injuries, I began to wonder whether steps had been taken by De Villiers to ensure Oudin’s longevity in the game?

Unlike Sharapova, whose years of intensive training on the hard courts of the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida have caused the star to remodel her serve in order to recover from a recurrent shoulder injury and Nadal’s pounding on the Spanish clay as a junior causing widespread concern over his tendonitis, De Villiers has been careful not to overdo the training and instead has chosen to allow Oudin to also focus her attentions on academic pursuits. De Villiers is well known for encouraging his young players to keep a balanced perspective on and off court. It has been documented that Oudin intends on studying for a medical degree in the future. Could this more balanced view be the key to her future success?

Indeed, the recent rise of American collegiate graduate John Isner to No. 25 in the ATP world rankings has emphasized the idea that devoting too much time to tennis at a young age without consideration of a player’s personal and mental development outside of the game can be detrimental, while a more balanced approach to education can be more conducive to a lengthy and successful career.

The Williams sisters were notoriously held back from playing junior events by their father which could have been the predominating factor in their continued enthusiasm for the game, as well as their other pursuits such as Serena’s charity work and their fashion lines.

I think there has been a definite switch in opinion regarding the age at which players are expected to achieve success, confirmed by the notable come backs of Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters in their mid twenties following breaks from the game, when both players were allowed the time to shift their focus on personal development which has possibly given them an edge over their weary contemporaries such as Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic whose years of focus and discipline have lead to mental and physical fatigue. Most players should be reaching their peak around the mid to late twenties mark, like the great Roger Federer, who many forget took 17 attempts at a Grand Slam title before winning one. However, in the past players have been written off as failures if they haven’t succeeded in their teens or early twenties, which with hindsight was ridiculous.

I really hope that young players such as Laura Robson and Melanie Oudin are given the time and space to develop at a more natural pace, with the inclusion of academic and social pursuits to ensure their love for the game, which can be lost like Andre Agassi admitted in his recent autobiography who went so far as to say he ‘hated’ the sport, but only began to truly love it aged 27 during his comeback which included several Grand Slam victories.

As Oudin plays in the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis this week, it will be interesting to see whether the level-headed youngster, whose slogan “believe” is emblazoned on her trainers, and her coach’s balanced approach will create a fairy tale ending for her adoring American fans and become a future Grand Slam tournament champion.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

AUSSIE OPEN WOMEN’S QUALIFYING 2010

The women’s qualifying draw packs more heat than on the men’s side for one main reason: Yanina Wickmayer. Despite being ranked 16th in the world, the Belgian is being forced to grind it out through three qualifying matches in order to secure a spot in the main draw.

Wickmayer was suspended by the Flemish Anti-Doping Tribunal in her home country in early November for apparently failing to report her whereabouts at certain times during the season.

The twenty year old rising star appealed the decision and had it overturned by a civil court in Belgium. Unfortunately for Wickmayer the new ruling came after the December 7th cut-off date for entries into the Australian Open.

That left Wickmayer with the option of applying for a wild-card from the tournament, but when it was not extended, it left her with no other option but going through the qualifying draw.

It’s disappointing that such a talented player is being forced to jump through hoops in order to qualify for the main draw. While I certainly feel that Wickmayer will make it through the qualies, it will place a greater physical strain on her body ahead of an already grueling Grand Slam schedule. Hopefully it will instead serve as a motivator for her and help her gain some momentum for a memorable tournament. She is obviously seeded number one in the qualifying draw and won a tough opening match on Thursday by a score of 4-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Aside from Wickmayer, the qualifying draw has a few other players worth following.

Alexandra Stevenson will best be remembered for her surprising run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon as a qualifier in 1999. That was a long time ago and Stevenson never built upon that success. Several injuries would creep up in 2002 and slow her progress and then a right-shoulder injury would derail her career at the end of 2004 and cause her ranking to plummet. Stevenson has been back to playing a full schedule for a couple of years now, but has not been able to regularly make it past qualifying draws and challenger-level tournaments.

Fifteen year old Laura Robson teamed up with Andy Murray at the Hopman Cup earlier this month and acquitted herself quite well. Born in Australia (Melbourne in fact) but playing for Great Britain, Robson lost to Daniela Hantuchova in three sets in the first round of Wimbledon last year, her first appearance at a Grand Slam. The youngster will turn sixteen during the Aussie Open and represents the future of female tennis in the U.K.

Canadians: I have to give a shout-out to the numerous Canadian women who are represented in the qualifying draw in Melbourne this year including, Valerie Tetreault, Heidi El Tabakh, Rebecca Marino and Sharon Fichman. Our country does not have much representation in the upper rankings of the tennis world, but these ladies are showing that Tennis Canada does have some talent in the mix just below the surface.