For two full years I’ve been training and staying in shape. I take two months off of tennis because of an injury and the first few days are as if I’ve never trained at any point in my life. I’ve always been astonished at how easy it is for someone to lose their fitness and how difficult it is to get it back. It really isn’t fair. During the last few weeks of recovery from my achilles bursitis I went through some swim and weight lifting programs to get my fitness back. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for a normal training program that is tailored for professional athletes. On the first day back at Ginepri Performance Tennis Academy in Atlanta I found myself getting my tail kicked by a few of the 14 and 15 year olds in the gym. Not only was I slower than them but they were using heavier weights than me! I felt so pathetic that sometimes I just had to laugh. It was a very humbling experience, but I knew it was just part of the process of getting back to professional shape.
As tough as it’s been to get my fitness levels up, it’s been even tougher getting my movement back. When I first started to practice I realized that I still had some discomfort in my achilles. After roughly 7 weeks off this should not have been the case. Both my strength/conditioning coach (Paul Fortunato from Ozone Fitness) and my physical therapist (Barbara Vaughn from SET Physical Therapy) watched me play and noticed that I needed to change the biomechanics of how I run. I was using my calf/achilles/foot area as my main source of energy when going to hit the next shot. This was causing a continuous aggravation of my achilles bursitis. I should have been using my glutes as my main source of energy. In order to achieve this I needed to make sure I was maintaining the athletic position while I moved. Once I’m in the athletic position the hips are loaded correctly and my glutes become my main source of energy. This relieves pressure from the lower leg area and allows me to be lighter and quicker.
To make this adjustment on court I’ve had to go through some practices just doing basic beginner basket feeding drills at a very slow place. If I tried to go too fast then I would move incorrectly and start to feel some discomfort in the achilles area. I spent a lot of time practicing with Robby Ginepri and at first there were many times when I struggled to continue long rallies. My feet couldn’t keep up. If I did keep up it was because I was moving incorrectly causing more discomfort. In the gym we focused a lot on strengthening the glutes through exercises such as single leg dead lifts and lunges.
There were definitely some moments of frustration during this training block. We are always making technical or strategical adjustments in my game but relearning how to move is a rare one. Throw in the fear of re-injuring myself and my patience was definitely tested. I’ll never forget how happy I was when I first started to really feel a big improvement with my movement. It was about two weeks in to my training and I was in the middle of my first full on practice set at Georgia Tech against one of their players. In between one of the points I turned to my coach Joseph O’Dwyer and said, “man, I’m losing but I’m so happy to be playing.”
February 2, 2015