In today’s tennis, machines against pain | Sports

The morphological studies of tennis say that Novak Djokovic’s is the closest thing to perfection: fibrous, graceful, light, but at the same time powerful, elastic, fast. A whole. The whole, with capital letters. “He is a Ferrari, so you have to always have him ready,” Ulises Badio, who until recently was his physio, usually describes. Coincidence or not, the absence of the Italian has coincided with the physical mishap that has plagued the Serb for two weeks, who is advancing at a forced march in Melbourne because his left thigh is bringing him down the street of bitterness. Even so, he is already in the round of 16 after reducing the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov: 7-6 (7), 6-3 and 6-4, in 3h 07m.

“I start out good, but then I make some movement and then it gets worse. The pills work, a little hot cream and stuff; that works a bit, then no, then yes… It’s really a roller coaster. It requires a lot of physical and mental energy that is spent dealing with the match and with my rival”, laments the 21-major champion, who raffled Tuesday’s debut against Roberto Carballés without apparent complications and then, in the next two scales, did not He could hide the pain. “I’m worried, I can’t say I’m not because there’s a reason to be. It is not ideal, ”he transmitted after getting off the Frenchman Enzo Couacaud on Thursday. “Before the tournament, I came to think that I could not play,” he stated after resolving his last commitment and meeting with the local Alex de Miñaur.

In any case, beyond this avatar, the Balkan, on his way to 36 years of age, embodies the second youth that is prevailing in the sport of the racket. The paradox is curious. The tennis players’ journey lengthens significantly while the overload of the calendar, the saturation of matches and the frenetic pace of the game progressively devours their bodies. All in order to squeeze the product, so that the Show stop and add bills to the cash register. It’s science against the system: nutrition, measurements and preparation as sophisticated as possible. Not an ounce of fat, defined muscles and lean faces. Even the smallest detail is monitored.

“You are 35 years old and have more experience than anyone. Does that give you extra motivation in front of the young people?”, they asked Djokovic at the foot of the track, who replied with humor: “What do you mean by that about the young people? Today, 35 is the new 25. Look Rafa, look Andy; both are playing at a very high level. When you reach the final stage of your career, each season counts and you begin to appreciate each tournament more because you know that there are not too many left to go.

Djokovic returns the ball during the match against Dimitrov.
Djokovic returns the ball during the match against Dimitrov.ANTHONY WALLACE (AFP)

Nole, an ode to resistance, is the spearhead of all those veterans who try to stretch out the trip as long as possible and stop the emergence of the new wave. Not long ago, in November, Djokovic himself issued a warning as the new talents put their elbows in and carved out a place for themselves in the attic of the circuit, making it very clear to the Alcaraz, Sinner, Rune, Aliassime and company that he and the old guard are not going to give up so easily. “I think it’s great that there are new faces in our sport, but I’ll make sure to kick their ass as much as I can; maybe they kick me sometimes, but hopefully, it will be less than I kick them ”, he affirmed.

35 is the new 25. Look Rafa, look Andy; both are playing at a very high level

NOVAK DJOKOVIC

One of the most extraordinary cases is that of Andy Murray, beaten by Roberto Bautista (6-1, 6-7(7), 6-3 and 6-4, after 3h 29m). Four years ago, the Scotsman announced his withdrawal precisely in Melbourne, tired of the pain and with a shattered hip. Two surgeries and several attempts later, the Scotsman, also heading for 36 years, continues to fight on the court and is capable of surviving five-hour marathons that a player his age would not have resisted in other times.

Precisely, Murray pulled his social networks to vindicate himself. After playing three extremely demanding matches, in which he spent 14 hours on the court, the Scotsman tweeted: “Two days ago I met the doctor by chance who in 2017 told me: ‘the good news is that the problem you have in the hip it can be solved, but you will not be able to return to practice professional sport’. I think we dispel that myth these days.”

Azarenka, during the match against Keys.
Azarenka, during the match against Keys.JOEL CARRETT (EFE)

The British succumbed to Bautista, another good example that everything has changed and that longevity is the order of the day. The man from Castellón, who will turn 35 in April, takes great care of his diet, in which dairy products have no place and vegetables abound. “Even when I’m at home, I do everything thinking about tennis: like thinking about tennis, I rest thinking about tennis,” says the Spaniard, orthodox like few others and praises regularity.

It happens that he has also been prey to the perverse framework that forces tennis players to play yes or yes, to preserve their status on the circuit and not give up positions in the world list. The pause means falling, with all that this entails: more difficult frames, losing points -because those entered in the previous season are automatically discounted- and less income that especially affects the majority of the peloton, since the top hundred do not they are no longer an exception. Everyone gives in to the wheel that goes round and round, constantly pushing physiques to their limits. “I don’t remember the last time I played a match without pain,” said Rafael Nadal a couple of years ago, current but punished beyond measure.

Even when I’m at home, I do everything thinking about tennis: I eat and rest thinking about tennis

Roberto Bautista

He is not the only one, far from it. It doesn’t matter what the DNI says. The cases of tennis players who pay for the incessant rhythm of tournaments and conditions proliferate: from Dominic Thiem to Paula Badosa, passing through the young Bianca Andreescu and Emma Raducanu. It is played at breakneck speed, full power, and largely on concrete, which multiplies the erosion on ankles, knees, hips and backs. Balls don’t help sometimes either. “I think they are one of the reasons why I injured my elbow, the Davis ones were crap and these [las de Australia] They wear out very quickly, so you have to hit it very hard and those of us who don’t have as much strength, it costs us a little more”, answers the Asturian Pablo Carreño to this newspaper.

Murray, fatigued during the duel with Bautista.
Murray, fatigued during the duel with Bautista.CARL RECINE (REUTERS)

Even so, the layout of the professionals continues to stretch and what was once exceptional is now becoming the norm. The bar of thirty is no longer the one that marks the expiration date, but is gradually rising towards quarantine. They left it not long ago Serena Williams and Roger Federer, both with 41, and classics and deans like Wawrinka (37), Fognini (35), Cilic (34), Ramos (34), Kanepi (37), Azarenka (33), Zhang (33), Kvitova (32), Cornet (32) or Cirstea (32) continue at full capacity, with a more or less long fuse still.

“I am satisfied with the work I have done during the preseason. I am confident and I feel good playing tennis”, appreciated this Saturday Bautista. “I have ended up tired, but it is normal. It has been hard, hard, and you end up a little bruised, but now I want to recover and if I am physically at my level, I think I can do well”, concluded the man from Castellón, a real machine. One of many against time.

RECORD: ALMOST 100,000 SPECTATORS

AC | Melbourne

The Melbourne Park complex hosted a historic day this Saturday, in which the great Australian recorded a record attendance between the morning and night sessions. In total, 94,854 spectators attended the facilities to follow the matches; 60,457 during the day and 34,397 at night.

In addition to the victory of Bautista, already the only Spanish representative in the tournament after Nuria Párrizas had fallen (double 6-2 in favor of Donna Vekic), the public witnessed the triumph of the young American Ben Shelton. At the age of 20, the American beat Alexei Popyrin (6-3, 7-6(4) and 6-4), while the even younger Linda Fruhvirtova (17 years old) beat Marketa Vondrousova 7-5, 2- 6 and 6-3.

You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook Y Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.

Subscribe to continue reading

Read without limits