Every physical activity has some inherent risk that you should consider before participating in it. Understanding the dangers of a sport eliminates nasty surprises ― if something goes wrong, you are more prepared for the consequences. Tennis is no exception as it poses its own set of risks to everybody involved in the sport.
Is tennis dangerous? The repetitive nature of play puts participants at risk of developing injuries, especially in the knees, elbows, shoulders, and back. The worst accidents in tennis are the result of falling or slipping awkwardly on the court.
The speed of the ball and racquets make them a danger if they strike anyone. Overall, tennis is not a particularly dangerous game. Moreover, many of the hazards in tennis are present in other sports as well.
Even among professionals, injuries and medical treatment are common, but serious accidents are not. There are measures governing bodies enforce to mitigate many risks and make tennis a lot safer for everyone involved. Players themselves can also do a lot to prepare for the rigors that their bodies will suffer.
Who Is in Danger?
The tennis players themselves are in most danger during a match or practice session because they are at the heart of the action.
Their bodies must work hard to produce good shots and keep rallies going over many hours. Competitors feel the force of every step and expend energy to hit every ball. Players are in the firing line of almost every shot and are constantly on the move, so they are most in danger of being hurt by the court or equipment.
Tennis is an individual sport. Even during a doubles contest, there are no substitutes to take a player’s place. A bad injury could mean the end of a player’s tournament, or possibly their season. Therefore, tennis players should take extra care of their bodies and do everything in their power to prevent accidents.
Players are not the only people on the court. Ball kids feature heavily in matches. Officials, namely umpires and line judges, are nearby too. All parties occupy the same space so they can be hurt by the players and balls.
A recent event of this happened at the US Open 2020, when Novak Djokovic hit a line judge with a ball that was not in play – which lead to a disqualification.
Spectators, coaches, and photographers are also present in the arenas. They are not immune to the difficult conditions that competitors play in and should also be cautious. Below is a list of the most common hazards in tennis. Some are more trivial than others, while some are only relevant to players.
Falls & Slips
Tennis players move around a lot and must accelerate to high speeds to chase down balls. They also have to constantly stop and change direction during points. This presents a lot of opportunities for them to slip and fall.
In unfortunate cases, slips can lead to sprained ankles or torn knee ligaments. Bad falls may cause anything from cuts and bruises to broken bones. The net, chairs, and advertising boards are also possible obstacles for players to collide with.
The playing surface strongly determines the chances of slipping. Clay courts are designed for competitors to slide on. Hence, players should learn how to properly slide and stop as part of their clay-court strategy. Grass courts can be incredibly slippery too. When a player falls on these natural surfaces, the landing tends to be softer.
Hard courts offer more secure footing, but falling on this surface can be very painful.
Repetitive Strain Injuries
A tennis match involves you hitting a repertoire of shots repeatedly. Some shots like the drop shot require finesse. Most strokes need to be explosive for you to have a chance of winning rallies. Generating the necessary power takes a toll on your body.
The best-known tennis injury is named after the sport. “Tennis elbow” consists of inflamed forearm tendons caused by the relentless swinging of the arm. This affects a player’s ability to grip. Another key joint for tennis players is that of the shoulder. Rotator cuff muscles can tear to hinder the mobility of the entire arm.
Bending during the service motion can potentially lead to fractures in the lower back. All of these strain effects are worsened by poor technique and an inadequate warm-up.
Collisions with Balls & Equipment
Tennis balls typically travel at over 100 mph and sometimes above 150 mph. The balls are made from rubber and felt, but at those speeds, they can feel like rockets. An impact to the arms, legs, or back may result in bruising and pain. If a high-speed tennis ball strikes somebody in the face, it could fracture their skull or damage their eyesight in extreme situations.
Professionals hit the ball very hard, so their racquets can slip out of their hands. Line judges and spectators can be badly hurt by a racket falling on them or by stray balls. Sometimes, players hit balls or throw rackets in anger and accidentally injure officials and ball kids.
Harsh Weather Conditions
Some places have very challenging climates for tennis players. The Australian Open is one of the sport’s most prestigious tournaments, but it takes place during the Australian summer. Temperatures can reach 40°C which is dangerous for anyone ― especially for high-level athletes in intense competition.
Some locations have high humidity which makes it difficult for players to keep cool when playing. Such dangerous scenarios have caused players to retire in the past due to heat exhaustion. High temperatures threaten players and crowds with dehydration and sunburn.
Sometimes rainy or humid weather can make the court wet which increases the likelihood of slipping. You can read more about playing tennis when it’s raining in this post.
This hazard applies to most sports equally. Failing to warm your body up leaves your muscles tight and fragile. Suddenly moving at a high tempo risks tearing them. A good warm-up loosens your muscles and raises your pulse rate. This also generates the necessary blood flow to provide enough oxygen to your muscles.
At elite levels, competitors have to care for their bodies off the tennis court as well. Post-match recovery and physiotherapy are mandatory. Continuing to play tennis without doing so multiplies the chances of a severe injury and a long time away from the court.
Safety Precautions in Tennis
For every danger, there is a precaution. You cannot avoid all of the above risks completely, but there are still many possible ways to make your time on court safer.
The first step is to have the right footwear for the surface you are on to prevent falling. In case of a fall, it helps if to be flexible so that your joints can better handle any awkward twists.
In hot weather, it is crucial to take regular breaks in the shade, drink plenty, and wear sunscreen. Tournaments such as the Australian Open and Wimbledon have heat rules in place to give players extra rest when temperatures are high. All Grand Slams also have roofs on their show courts to prevent rain from causing delays or slippery conditions.
Strength and conditioning make a tennis player’s muscles and joints more durable and thereby less likely to suffer injuries.
When it comes to collisions, ball kids, officials, and spectators have to stay alert at all times during play. Some tournaments now use automatic line calling software to save linespeople from getting hit by balls or rackets.
The Final Verdict
The hazards in tennis affect each participant differently. Every tennis player should perform a personal risk assessment to identify the main threats and take steps to reduce them. The same is true for spectators and officials.
Many dangers for professional players do not apply to amateur or club-level players. For instance, younger players don’t play for nearly as long, nor do they hit the ball extremely fast. All in all, risks do exist in tennis, but they are low compared to the majority of sports.