It’s currently day 4 of the Mens Pro Tennis tournament in the Riverside Health and Rackets Club in Chiswick, London. The top players in this Futures event are around 200-300 in the world with the next level up of tournament being a Challenger followed by the ATP Masters circuit.
It is the beginning of the outdoor hard court event so the players are quickly adapting after the grass court season. Tournaments will be taking place on all surfaces throughout the world but most professional players change the court surface in preparation for the next upcoming Grand Slam. The next being the US Open on outdoor hard court in September. The first few tournaments after a change of surface can often see new injuries as each surface can have different demands; for example, moving to hard court from grass the player needs to adapt to increased load forces through the legs and lower back.
As the physio representing the LTA, my day always starts an hour before play begins, so I have time to see any players for pre-match preparations. This may involve treating players’ new injuries or pains but usually involves managing problems I have been aware of before. Treatments at this point may involve soft tissue massage, joint mobilisations and taping to offload any tight and sore body parts. The psychological component is also important, especially just before their match. The player has to feel confident and comfortable. If a certain technique has previously really helped (even if done by a different physio) and the player requests it, then it may be preferable to include it as part of the treatment to aid their confidence.
Once play is in flow then the physio needs to be prepared for any on-court medical time outs. A player can request the physio at any time during the match for an injury or illness. A walkie talkie is carried by the physio at all times so they can be easily contacted and they must prioritise any on-court visits. Once on court, the player’s needs are assessed within a reasonable time scale. There is not a fixed period of time for this but it is important the physio is respectful to the flow of play, spectators and the other player waiting. After a quick assessment, the player and physio agree if a treatment is appropriate and what that will involve. If the player needs treatment in order to continue playing, then the umpire will allow no more than three minutes for this. Types of on-court treatment can vary from massage, joint mobilisations, taping, wound management or simply advice. Again, the psychological impact of a medical time out for both players can be huge and the physio needs to be open to the tactical mis-use of it at times.
If a player is unable to complete the match due to an injury, a medical form is completed with a prediction of the period of time that the player may need to be out of full competition. This is then sent to the ITF (International Tennis Federation) so plans can be put in place if the player is then set to miss any upcoming tournaments where ranking points could be affected.
If players have some time before they’re due on court, they often request a full assessment and treatment in the physio room. This week the physio room is based favourably in the ‘Tranquility Spa’ area in this exclusive club but it’s not unusual for the physio room to be the club groundsman’s shed!! It can simply be luck of the draw which tournaments the physio covers and what facilities they have available to them!
Each day varies in busyness by the number of injuries but the physio is always required to stay until the end of play, ensuring that they can treat any players after they have finished on court. As the draw gets smaller the days tend to become shorter, though of course outdoor tournament schedules can often be thrown by the weather! It has not been unusual to still be at a venue after 10.30pm.
As with any physiotherapy intervention, full notes are completed and an online system allows easy transference of information between the different physios at different tournaments. The players’ injuries can therefore be easily monitored and treatments progressed.
Working in any acute sporting environment is certainly different from the normal clinic setting and has its positives, along with its negatives. The long hours and occasionally challenging individuals make it often not as glamorous as people anticipate and it is certainly not recommended to those lacking experience and confidence as a physio, as well as knowledge of the games rules and techniques.