Injuries are adding up at Wimbledon and determining the outcomes of matches

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Alex de Minaur of Australia falls during his fourth round match against Arthur Fils of France at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Monday, July 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON – There's no single explanation, of course, for all of the injuries to players in the latter stages at Wimbledon this year. This much is certain: The timing could hardly be worse.

The man Novak Djokovic was supposed to face on Wednesday, Alex de Minaur, withdrew hours before their scheduled quarterfinal because he jarred his hip at the end of a victory two days earlier.

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“I'm devastated,” de Minaur said. “The problem with me going out and playing is that one stretch, one slide, one anything, can make this injury (recovery) go from three to six weeks to four months. It’s too much to risk.”

Taylor Fritz’s fourth-round opponent, Alexander Zverev, slipped on an unworn patch of green grass in his previous match. That caused a bone bruise — and maybe worse — that Zverev complained left him on “one leg” in his loss to the American at what the two-time major finalist characterized as a wide open opportunity to grab a first Grand Slam title.

Danielle Collins' last Wimbledon appearance before retirement ended with tape wrapped around her hamstring, the work of a trainer during the American’s fourth-round loss to 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova. Collins chalked it up to failing to “think about every little step that you take.”

“There's been a ton of injuries on the grass. Left and right, it seems like people are going down. I am, I guess, frustrated that I feel like I was focusing on my tactics and kind of what I needed to do to play at a high level. Usually, I feel like, on other surfaces you’re not having to think so critically about your movement,” Collins said. “The one second I take my mind off of it, not think about every little thing I’m doing with my footwork, it ends up happening.”

The falls keep happening. The injuries are adding up.

“It’s unfortunate, obviously,” de Minaur said. “You never want to see this.”

He called his mishap “more of a freak injury,” related to the “excessive amount of force” used to slide on grass.

Madison Keys, the 2017 U.S. Open runner-up, was in tears when she stopped because of a hurt leg at 5-all in the third set of a Week 2 match against Jasmine Paolini, who reached Thursday's semifinals.

Emma Raducanu, who won the U.S. Open three years ago, withdrew from mixed doubles — which was supposed to be Andy Murray's last event at Wimbledon — because of a sore wrist, then needed a medical timeout later that day after falling in the third set of a singles loss.

No. 17 Anna Kalinskaya cited a bad wrist when she quit in her fourth-round match against 2022 champion Elena Rybakina. No. 10 Grigor Dimitrov retired from his fourth-round match against Daniil Medvedev with a leg problem.

“It’s normal for the second week at Wimbledon to be feeling niggling things on your muscles, because it’s tough — the grass, getting down low, coming into the net. It's more on the muscles than the joints on the grass," 2003 Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis said. "So I’m sure lots of people will be feeling it now with little things here and there.”

Count Djokovic among those who think part of the issue is that all of the rain during the tournament — so much that the mixed doubles final was shifted from Thursday to Sunday, and play began a half-hour earlier than usual on most courts Wednesday — has made the grass more slick and the footing less sure.

So has shutting the retractable roofs at Centre Court and No. 1 Court, the only two arenas with that luxury during wet weather.

“Once you close the roof, you know that the grass is going to be more slippery. So there’s more chances that players will fall. Unfortunately, some of the falls have caused some of the players to withdraw,” Djokovic said.

“It's part of this surface. You can’t really change that," added the seven-time champion at the All England Club. "I mean, it’s grass. It’s a live surface, and it reacts to different conditions.”

The pattern began at grass tourneys that preceded Wimbledon.

Marketa Vondrousova retired from a match in Berlin after hurting her right leg there. When she showed up at Wimbledon, she became the first defending champion in 30 years to lose in the first round and acknowledged: "I was a bit scared because of my leg.”

The woman who beat her last week, Jessica Bouzas Maneiro, stopped at Wimbledon because of a back issue in the third round against Krejcikova.

Frances Tiafoe pulled out of the Queen's Club tournament before Wimbledon after spraining a ligament in his right knee when he took a tumble. Tiafoe played at the All England Club with a black sleeve over his knee and made it to the third round before losing to defending champion Carlos Alcaraz.

Djokovic tore the meniscus in his right knee during a match at the French Open, had surgery and returned to competition less than a month later. Ironically, he thinks it's possible that might have helped him stay upright this fortnight.

That's because, years ago, Djokovic was one of the first players to regularly slide on grass the way they do on clay. He has cut down on those movements this time at Wimbledon, being extra careful to avoid risking falls.

“It’s probably part of my, I guess, different kind of movement on the court that I’ve been really experimenting with because of the cautiousness — because of the knee and everything that was happening prior to the tournament,” Djokovic explained. “The first couple rounds, I was still not maybe willing to go (for difficult) balls and slide and make splits.”

Other theories include: More and more baseline play on grass, and less serving-and-volleying, creates longer points and extra running, which translate into a greater likelihood of slips; less comfort on grass because players tend to grow up practicing and competing on clay or hard courts; and a brief grass portion of the schedule that doesn't allow for accumulating a lot of experience on the turf.

Then there's the general wear-and-tear of a season.

“Listen, tennis is a very physical sport at the moment. For sure, the rallies are longer. Matches. Scheduling. Finishing late,” 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis said. “It’s very demanding on the body. ... A lot of things are changing that (contribute) to players getting injured.”


AP tennis:

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