On a hot, humid, summer day during the 2014 U.S. Open, the seventh seeded woman in the tournament, Eugenie Bouchard, lost to the 17th seed, Ekaterina Makarova. During the match Bouchard needed medical attention, and the comments made by the TV commentators infuriated me.
Implied in what was being said is that it wasn't right for the match to be delayed so that Bouchard could receive medical attention. Physical endurance, dealing with the heat, is part of the game they said, if Bouchard can't deal with it, she should default. It's unfair to Makarova they implied. By the tone of what was being said, one could be confused of whether you are watching a tennis match or a marathon.
These comments and their tone, coming from former U.S. male and female tennis players, strikes me as snobery. The commentators were essentially saying, "in our day we would never stop play for medical attention." And, they walked to school in six feet of snow, up hill.
It seems the commentators are not aware of what has been going on in professional sports and health. After too many deaths, near deaths, brain damage, and law suits, professional football, hockey, and baseball are now, finally, very sensitive to concussions.
Ten years ago, a player might have "got their bell rung," shook it off, and were sent right back in to the game by their coach. Back then, taking care of your health was a sign of weakness. No doubt many of the professional athletes of that time look at the precautions taken today with bewilderment, wondering what has happened to their sport.
Concussions is not a problem with tennis, but there is this thing called heat stroke. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and like concussions it can lead to brain damage.
Note to retired athletes, just because you played through the pain, got your bell rung, kept playing when you saw four balls coming at you or thought you were going to pass out, doesn't mean it was right. Reality is, we know more about the impact of concussions, heat stroke, and other medical issues today than we did 10, 20, and 30 years ago.
Just because those injuries were not taken seriously then doesn't mean they should not be taken seriously today. Athletes are not weaker because they are concerned about their health, they are smarter. Smart enough to know, hopefully, that a professional athletic career is much shorter than a life span.
Note to retired professional tennis players. The game being played today is faster, more athletic, and more physically demanding than it was when you played. Most of you could not compete with the players today, even when you were at your prime. Consequently, comparing how the game was played 10 or 20 years ago with the game today is ridiculous. Further, if you think the players today are some how less of a player because they get medical attention during a match, you are simply being a snob.
Was Makarova in an unfair disadvantage because the match was delayed six minutes? Were any of John McEnroe's opponents in an unfair disadvantage when he went off on an umpire for several minutes during a match?
Truth is delays have been a part of professional tennis for a long time. Just as you may think physical endurance is part of the game, so is mental strength. The ability to deal with bad calls, tempermental opponents, and medical issues both your own and of your opponents, is part of the game.
It was clear to me watching the match that despite the treatment she received, Bouchard was physically hurting. What was expected of Makarova in this case, as Chris Evert or Martina Navratilova would have done, is keep hitting balls back to Bouchard until she made a mistake. In the end Makarova won the match, overcoming both the mental and physical challenges she encountered, in other words, she did just as her predecessors would also have done, back in the day.
P.S. Just as the game today is much more physical than ever before, ticket prices to watch professionals play tennis is much more expensive today than 10 and 20 years ago. For the high price they pay, fans expect tennis players to win through competition and not due to default. The sport owes the fans the right to see a full match and should do everything they can to try and make that happen, while protecting the player's health.