Svetlana Kuznetsova was one match away from returning to the French Open semi-finals for the first time since winning the Grand-Slam tournament in 2009. Kuznetsova is known for her prowess on clay courts, having not only won the tournament in 2009, but also appearing in the finals in both 2006 and 2007, where she was runner-up to Justine Henin.
The daughter of two world-class cyclists, Kuznetsova began training at a young age. Her brother is an olympic cyclist, and she is known for incorporating intense stationary bike workouts into her regimen, which is evident by the prominence of her quadriceps muscles.
The 27th-ranked Kuznetsova was playing well in the tournament, and looked to be returning to her form from five years ago. She faced off against No. 4, Simona Halep. Halep was on her game, making very good shots, working both corners, and making Kuznetsova run laterally, but something began to seem off with Kuznetsova’s technique as the game progressed. Although Halep was placing the ball very well, Kuznetsova seemed to be a step behind, missing shots she would normally get to.
Upon losing the first set, she called for a trainer and emerged for the second set with her left thigh wrapped. At this point, the slowed play began making sense. The injury continued to impair her play in the second set. At one point she could be observed serving off of only one leg. The thigh pain ended Kuznetsova with a disappointing 6-2, 6-2.
Svetlana Kuznetsova’s workout routine could be, in part, to blame. However, unless she was overtraining her muscles between French Open matches – which is doubtful as players tone down their workouts for these types of competitions – cycling probably had very little to do with her injury. Typically, if she had trained her legs harder than other players, she would have less of a muscle imbalance.
Muscle strains are very common in tennis. It is a game of constant acceleration and deceleration, even at the amateur level. Players are essentially going from 0 to 60 and back again, while reaching as far as the body will allow. On clay courts, as seen at the French Open, there’s the added element of traction. A player, running at full speed, has a tendency to lock his or her leg and slide several feet before deceleration and position reversal. The quadriceps is in jeopardy of a strain when a contracted muscle is lengthened suddenly, or when the leg strikes the ground with intense impact. These common tennis muscle mechanics can lead to frequent tennis injuries.
Kuznetsova’s leg was wrapped, not to improve the injury, but to control the swelling and provide support to prevent it from worsening. Given her obvious level of discomfort, but the fact that she was able to play through it, the strain was most likely classified as a Grade 2. The injury probably stemmed from a single movement, and the pain was immediate – worsening with every step. Grade 2 strains are fairly common, and when treated correctly, they are not serious long-term.
Ultimately, Kuznetsova was unable to advance to the semifinal match of the French Open, when she fell 6-2, 6-2 to Halep. Though it wasn’t apparent exactly how much the injury affected Kuznetsova’s play, it certainly couldn’t have helped.