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A fine balancing act

One of the biggest challenges tennis players face is staying healthy.

The tournament calendar spans over 11 months of action and one plays on a variety of surfaces in a wide range of countries all around the world.

Staying ‘healthy’ is a relative term – one would be hard pressed to find any player in the modern game that isn’t experiencing some sort of pain or niggle, from a past injury or a more current one.

As players, our primary goal is to remain healthy enough to compete. This is an ongoing process, which requires a lot of dedication from the player to rehabilitation. Maintaining peak physical condition also often requires professional help from trainers and physiotherapists alike.

Knowing when to push through the pain and when to rest the body is a tricky challenge. A lot depends on which tournament you are playing in and what round you have reached. For example, a player is more likely to push oneself further in a Grand Slam or in the later rounds of a tournament.

However, the above is often done at the detriment of one’s physical well-being. While anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers are frequently used to mask the pain, something has got to give. Ultimately the body needs rest in order to heal and constantly practicing and competing makes this difficult to do.

After the French Open, I took a few days off as I was experiencing a couple aches and pains, specifically in my right shoulder. By the time Queen's was set to begin, an insufficient amount of time had passed to allow the shoulder to recover.

While not an easy decision to make, I decided to withdraw from Queen's in order to rest my shoulder for a further week. This gave me the best chance to recover fully ahead of Eastbourne and, most importantly, Wimbledon.

As tough as it was not playing Queen's, I had to set my sights on preparing as best I could while still resting my shoulder. The one positive from having an injury to the upper-body is that even though one can’t hit tennis balls there is still a lot of training one can do.

Last week’s focus was on movement and footwork, specifically on the grass. The big park (where ardent tennis fans of Wimbledon camp through the night to get tickets for the next day) is right by the house we are renting in Southfields.

This is a great spot where my coach and I are able to combine tennis-specific footwork drills with agility and endurance work.

In addition to this training, I was in the gym with my trainer doing lower-body strength work and light rehab on my shoulder.

Even though I was still training, all of the above doesn’t take up the whole day. This left me with a bit of time on my hands.

Having some free time and being in London is not a bad combination. Southfields is home to many South Africans – hardly a day goes by without hearing the very recognisable South African accent.

There are a few Savannah’s – South African stores – stocked with all the goodies from back home: Biltong, Ouma rusks, TV Bars etc.

I also spent a lot of time on the couch watching the ICC Champions Trophy. I will certainly be cheering on the Proteas when they take on England in the semifinals.

After five days off, I was eager to get back on the grass. Aorangi, the practice site for the Wimbledon Championships, opened last Saturday. It’s a great place to be during those first few days as it’s quiet and the grass courts are in perfect condition.

With my shoulder passing the test, I booked our tickets to Eastbourne. We took the train down from Wimbledon Station to Eastbourne on Sunday.

The tournament is played in a park, which gives it a very quaint and cosy feel. The grass courts are very well-maintained.

I’m excited for my first-round match scheduled for Centre Court this afternoon. Time to get ready!

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