(Reuters) - Serena Williams made one of the more dreaded walks at the Australian Open on Tuesday, into Tim Wood’s consulting room deep in the bowels of Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park.
The 31-year-old had just tumbled over her right ankle in her first-round match against Edina Gallovits-Hall and was seeking a diagnosis and treatment advice before she continues her bid for a sixth Australian Open crown.
“I haven’t had enough time to assess it yet,” Williams told reporters after her 6-0 6-0 demolition of the 110th-ranked Romanian. “Saw the doctor again. We’re just gonna see how it is in a few hours from now.”
Williams was just one of 550 visits the on-site medical team could expect during the tournament, Wood told Reuters a few hours before the American injured herself.
Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer works with five other doctors and four nurses in the consulting rooms that are buried down a labyrinth of corridors underneath centre court.
Almost 20 physiotherapists, about half of whom are full-time ATP or WTA staff, also worked at the tournament, providing rehabilitation and strapping for the players, Wood said.
Despite the high-speed, explosive start-stop nature of the sport and jarring of joints, tendons and ligaments, Wood said about half of their consultations were for medical conditions.
Most were for typical coughs and colds associated with the stress of playing a grand slam, long-haul travel and sleeping in air-conditioned hotels.
This year, a small batch of players had arrived with mild gastro-intestinal problems after playing a warm-up tournament in Chennai while sometimes players were also likely to use the medical service, just because it was there.
”Players do drop in very casually for things that sometimes (the normal populace) would not go to the doctor for,“ he said with a smile. ”Often they come in for things that we would normally just go to the chemist, buy something and treat it ourselves for two or three days.
“There is a lot of fairly minor stuff.”
Wood, a sports medicine specialist who contracts to Tennis Australia, was trying to get Australian players to travel with their own supply of over the counter medications like pain killers and cold and flu tablets for peace of mind overseas.
“It’s actually amazing that very few players travel with a basic medication kit,” he said.
”I‘m not saying players should self-medicate... but when playing a tournament in Uzbekistan it’s going to be very difficult for a player to identify what they’re buying.
“The packaging may be different, the language is not their own. You just don’t know what you’re buying.”
Prior to the Australian Open, several players withdrew from warm-up tournaments because of nagging injuries that could have effected their efforts at the grand slam.
Wood said those type of injuries were either chronic, one player had been turning up to the Australian Open with knee tendon problems they had been “managing” for seven years, while others had not quite adjusted to the sudden increase in training and playing workload after their end of year break.
He also revealed there were two interesting trends he had noticed in his time working at the Open.
”One of the bigger (number of similar injuries) we see is the strain of a rectus abdominus, which is an abdominal strain that is caused by serving.
”It’s actually on the opposite side of the (body) people serve with. It does cause pain and they can play through it, but we have actually managed to eradicate it in Australia through a rehabilitative strength and conditioning programme.
“If you do the right programme in the gym off court then we feel that it could be abolished completely.”
The second trend was the prevalence of “non-dominant” wrist injuries, because of the rise in the double-handed backhand.
”We never used to see that injury when players were using just one hand to play their backhand, but we are seeing more and more of those injuries.
Aside from the cornucopia of muscle strains, stress fractures and tendon injuries to shoulders, backs, arms, wrists, feet, knees, legs and the abdomen, Wood said the sport was no less physiologically stressful than other sports.
“The elite players are pushing their bodies, but I don’t think they’re doing any harm to their bodies,” he said.
“You look at them walking around and they’re very healthy individuals. It’s just finding how far can they push it before their bodies fail.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)