Monday, January 14, 2008

Last woman standing: It's not just a figure of speech

Jelena Jankovic's hamstring injury appears to have healed (for now), but her back injury now appears to be chronic. In her first round Australian Open struggle against the relentless Tamira Paszek, Jankovic had to have treatment for her back, and was visibly dealing with back pain. Back pain is becoming more frequent for Jankovic, and--if she does not find a way to overcome it--it will become her greatest obstacle. One suspects that her unwise decision to play way too many tournaments last season contributed to--or even caused--this issue.

Meanwhile, Paszek, after nearly three hours of play, had to have treatment for her thigh.

And on another court, Lindsay Davenport, struggling to survive against Sara Errani, was obviously hampered by a foot injury. Then there was Vera Zvonareva, who should probably never have played the first round. She had to retire at the beginning of her second set against Ai Sugiyama; Zvonareva injured her left ankle in Hobart.

The Australian Open is already the toughest physical venue of all the Grand Slams. The new court surface should help, especially with regard to foot and ankle injury prevention, but the heat is still going to be a factor (though it may be somewhat mitigated by the surface). Consider the other players who are coming back from a long injury/illness layoff: Mauresmo, Li, Zheng, Sharapova. Now add the recently injured players: Safarova, Azarenka, Mauresmo, Li, Medina Garrigues, Dechy.

Two players could not even show up in Australia: Meghann Shaughnessy may be out as long as six months because of a recent knee injury, and Sam Stosur had not fully recovered from her long illness by the time the season opened.

Obviously, some of these injured players are probably healed from their injuries and illnesses to the point that they are no longer especially vulnerable to renewed injury at the Australian Open. But some probably are still vulnerable, and as the hot days in Melbourne go by, it looks like being healthy is as good a way to survive as any.

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