Injuries are an occupational hazard in tennis but there are steps that athletes on the WTA Tour take to minimise the chances of hurting themselves.
Mark Hodgkinson

Warm to the task

However mundane they might find it sometimes, players always warm up before taking to the gym or court. "Even though I hate warming up - it's the worst part of my job - it's so important to do it," says Andrea Petkovic. "It's so boring because I've been doing the same routine for so many years, but I zone out and maybe do things automatically because I've done things so many times before. Warming up helps you to avoid injuries, especially when you're tight and you really want to win as then the muscles get a little smaller. You have to make sure that all of the muscles in your body are ready to go." 

Stretch it out

Players also recognise the importance of stretching after exercise. "Stretching really cools the muscles down and gets the lactic acid, which causes soreness, out," says Sloane Stephens. 

Rest matters as much as work

Another key skill is listening to your body and knowing when it is fatigued - playing through tiredness can lead to injury. "If you don't have a day off for weeks on end, you could then break down and get injured," says Samantha Stosur. "Sometimes it's just as important to be resting and recovering as it is to be training. You've got to have your days off. During a training block, you're got to have rest - at least one day a week - as otherwise you're going to be wrecked."

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The core of the matter

Tennis players pay special attention to strengthening their core. "The big muscles in the core need to be strong, but so do the small muscles around them because they are the ones that can tear, especially on the serve when you make a sudden movement," says Caroline Wozniacki. "So those are the ones that are extra important to work on because if your core is strong everything else on the court will be strong, too."

A test of patience

The smartest players are always thinking about their long-term health. "For example, players should be more careful on grass, as on that surface there's more chance of slipping and sliding and hurting yourself," says Jean-Pierre Bruyere, a chiropractor who has worked with Victoria Azarenka. "The actual surface can differ quite considerably from one part of the court to the other - the grass will be worn down more at the baseline - and that can be dangerous. If there's any moisture on the court, you have to be really careful. I think players get injured because they think they should continue and no one has told them to stop."

One of the most dangerous times for any tennis player is when she is coming back from injury - return too early and you could hurt yourself. Patience is crucial. "One of the hardest things is knowing when you're ready to come back," says Sabine Lisicki. "I've made the mistake in the past of coming back too soon when I wasn't quite ready. That comes down to experience, of knowing what your body is capable of. And when you do come back, you have to think you're starting from scratch again. Things happen slowly so you can't expect too much at the beginning."