Are Tennis Players Too Soft These Days?

January 28, 2010 in Tennis, Uncategorized by pacejmiller

Are players like Novak Djokovic too soft?

This morning on TV, I heard one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve heard in a long time.

That the professional tennis players of today are too soft.

The commentator then complained about how players these days get injury timeouts and toilet breaks, and how footballers, who get banged up night in and night out, don’t (yeah, they just piss on the field!).  For players who earn millions of dollars a year (just the top players, really), shouldn’t they just suck it up and keep going?

(To read on, click on ‘More…’)

Wait – since when is it a bad thing to allow players to go to the toilet?  Or let them get some treatment when they are hurt?  Sure, some players do abuse the system a little – catch a breather, break the opponent’s momentum, or offset them mentally.  But does that mean we should forget about the welfare of the players?  Make them struggle a bit?  Earn their ridiculous paycheck, so to speak?

It’s akin to saying we should let boxers keep fighting like they did in the old days, when fights weren’t stopped even when a fighter (or both) was on the verge of death or at risk of suffering permanent brain damage.

The most ridiculous thing is that this comment came following Novak Djokovic’s quarter-final loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2010 Australian Open.  But hang on, didn’t Djokovic battle till the end despite battling a stomach ailment?  Despite being up 2 sets to 1, Djokovic crumpled in the final 2 sets to hand Tsonga the victory, 7-6, 6-7, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.

“I don’t want to find excuses for my loss, but, you know, I went to vomit and I had diarrhoea before the match,” Djokovic said.  “After two games (of the fourth set) I had to go to the toilet.  I couldn’t hold on.  There was no way, otherwise I would throw up on the court… just a terrible feeling.”

This followed Andy Roddick’s courageous losing effort against Marin Cilic.  Despite losing the first two sets and being told by his trainer that the pain from his neck and shoulder injuries wasn’t going to improve, Roddick battled on, eventually succumbing in five sets.

It’s all too easy to call guys like Rafael Nadal (who forfeited in the third set after losing the first two against Andy Murray) and Marcos Baghdatis (who forfeited against Lleyton Hewitt in the second set after losing the first) soft for quitting in the middle of a match.  But these are young guys who need to think about their future.  It’s not like they’ll never have another opportunity to compete for a grand slam.  Even if they somehow managed to win that match, it was most likely they’d have to pull out of the next one anyway.  Especially Rafa, who missed the majority of last season because of the same knee injury.  Would it have been worth it for him to battle on at the risk of permanent damage?  Would you if you were in his position?

It’s also wrong to compare the game of today to the game of the past.  Players have more rigorous schedules, where they can effectively play up to 11 months a year (or more).  The tour is also so much more competitive than it used to be.  Players hit the ball so much harder on every single shot.  This is not just in actual matches, but also in daily training and practice.  It’s no wonder why, despite the advancements in medical technology, players are still getting hurt.

It’s not a matter of tennis players getting softer as it is a matter of them becoming more practical and less myopic.