Why all the secrecy? Tennis badly needs more injury transparency
NEW YORK -- Typically when an athlete gets injured, a familiar routine unfolds: the injury is named, the severity articulated and the prescription detailed.
Such routines keep people from drawing their own wild conclusions. The exception, of course, is tennis, where players fall ill and drop out of sight without immediate explanation -- and that leads to long, meandering games of telephone.
The game got especially intense on Wednesday afternoon, when 10th-seeded
The answers were vague and streamed in slowly. In a statement, tournament referee
Much later, Azarenka issued her own statement that filled in some blanks: She fell on her arms and head in a warm-up run before her match. She was examined by a medical team and cleared to play, but struggled to compete through a headache and dizziness. Laboring to stay upright and see, she tumbled onto the court. At the hospital, she was diagnosed with a mild concussion.
It's the kind of explanation that is de rigueur in other sports and disseminated with lightning speed. When Giants quarterback
But in tennis, sagas like Azarenka's play out like serial dramas. If the sport were serious about accelerating the flow of information and sharpening accuracy, it would adopt a system more like the NFL's or the NBA's and provide year-round health updates on all of its players. But that would require a cooperative spirit, and tennis -- a skein of disparate interests -- is hardly a tightly wound operation.
Also, there's a belief that a tennis injury wire would encourage gambling, an issue that had become particularly acute in recent years. But tennis is no more at risk than any other sport. If anything, it would level the playing field between the bettors who scout tournaments to harvest first-hand injury information and those who don't.
And then there's the competitive advantage on the court. Disclosing injuries has long been a sign of weakness in sports, and tennis is no different. But there's a difference between keeping bumps and bruises secret and playing with a major illness -- like mononucleosis. That's something
Neither player revealed he had the illness until it could help justify poor on-court results. Though Roddick declined to use mono as an excuse for his second-round loss to Serbia's
Overall, medical transparency doesn't happen until it's too late. Consider the case of
Why did it take a court case for the extent of Razzano's pain to become public? Because most players prefer to shroud their ailments in mystery. Much of that has to do with the fact that tennis players -- unlike those in team sports -- are independent contractors, and as such don't have to share any more about their health than the bare minimum. That often leaves the tournament, tour, and federation bosses they partner with scrambling to piece together facts on their own, and the stories don't always match.
Consider the curious case of
That touched off a two-month-long game of Mad Libs that sucked in, among others, the WTA (which said Williams had injured herself stepping on a shard of broken glass), TV analyst
Williams eventually set the record straight in an interview with
What tennis injuries ultimately reveal is who really calls the shots. Unlike the NFL and NBA, where strong-handed commissioners control the flow of information and actually wield power, tennis is more like a balkanized republic managed by a coalition of reluctant partners -- and players hold the most sway. When they get hurt, the tennis brass scurries like cockroaches for cover and leave the players to do their own damage control.
How else to explain why Earley was so vague when Azarenka collapsed, why WTA chairman
More than anything, producing timely and definitive injury updates would seem like an easy way for the WTA and ATP to win respect from a general sporting public that dismisses tennis as a sport for softies. Casual fans would likely have more admiration for
Instead, tennis lets our imaginations run wild. As long as the sport insists on the cloak-and-dagger approach to injury disclosure, fans are pretty much doomed to an eternity of nervous waiting and needless guessing.