Top 5: Tennis Comeback Stories
30 June 2019 • By - Harry Thompson
With Wimbledon starting today, ground-staff at SW19 will have been busy ensuring the immaculate grass playing surface upholds its usual superb standard. Copious amounts of Pimm’s, strawberries & cream and other niceties will also be readied for the near half-a-million people that flock to watch tennis within the stunning grounds of the All England Club.
Unfortunately for most tennis players, the charm and glamour of playing at Wimbledon year after year is not always viable. The sport has long had connotations with serious and debilitating injuries, usually repetitive strain injuries (RSI’s). However, from time to time, a remarkable comeback story is witnessed after a player’s career looked as good as finished. We take a look at 5 such stories that have shocked the tennis world.
Where else to start than with our very own Andy Murray. One of Britain’s greatest sportsman of the last decade having claimed 3 Grand Slam victories and double Olympic gold. Murray’s first Major win came in New York during 2012, which was the first time Britain had seen a Major tournament winner since Fred Perry in 1936. However, his success hasn’t come without pain. Since the age of 18, Murray has worn an ankle brace on his left ankle following a nasty twist during a juniors tournament. If one wasn’t bad enough, the Scotsman partially tore a tendon in his right ankle in 2011, putting his fitness at future tournaments in doubt.
Fighting through the pain, Murray went on to reach 11 major finals, winning 3 including 2 memorable victories at Wimbledon. However, earlier this year his career looked to be over aged just 31. Following a 1st round Australian Open defeat to Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, Murray broke into tears after telling the world’s media he was on the brink of retirement. Requiring a hip resurfacing, it was unlikely he would ever play competitively again, let alone challenge for Majors. Yet almost miraculously, Murray made a return after just 6 months and won his first tournament back at Queen’s last week alongside doubles partner Feliciano Lopez. A stunning comeback. He now has a spring in his step heading into Wimbledon, surely he couldn’t, could he?
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) June 6, 2019
Venus, one-half of the superb William’s sisters, was once one of the most fearsome women on the WTA tour. She dominated most of the 00’s reaching 16 major finals, winning 7 of them including a staggering 5 Wimbledon victories. Her hard-hitting serve and ground strokes were well suited to the grass courts in south-west London as she regularly reached the latter stages of the competitions. However, in 2009, Venus’ career looked was thrown into doubt after she was diagnosed with the viral illness Sjögren’s Syndrome.
The illness left the American suffering from extreme fatigue before, during and after matches. On-court, her once frightening ground strokes no longer possessed the power they once had. Understandably, Venus dropped down the world rankings and appeared resigned to curb her Major singles title aspirations. Whilst still having doubles success, Venus went 8 years (2009-2017) without reaching a Grand Slam final in the singles. Without much expectation going into the Australian Open in 2017, Venus bravely managed to power her way to the final. Fittingly, she came up against her younger sister Serena at the final hurdle. Ultimately, it was a step too far succumbing to a narrow 6-4 6-4 defeat, but her comeback story will have inspired so many suffering from similar illnesses around the sporting world.
— Venus Williams (@Venuseswilliams) May 19, 2019
Arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, statistically at the very least. The beloved Swiss has captured a record 20 Major titles, including an unprecedented 8 Wimbledon championships. Federer is adorned by fans around the world for his almost effortless approach on court, as well as his sporting attitude off it. He has won the hearts of so many who have watched him in action at the All England Club, but he too has endured injury struggles. In 2016, with Federer’s air of invincibility waning, he suffered a torn meniscus (cartilage) in his knee, keeping him out of action for 5 months. Upon his return, he suffered a back injury which heavily restricted his movement around the court.
It looked to be the end for Federer after he suffered a recurrence of his knee injury later that year during a Wimbledon semi-final against Milos Raonic. Injury forced the Swiss to sit-out the rest of the 2016 season. However, the break from tennis appeared to rejuvenate Federer as he returned for the 2017 season. Without a Major title in 5 years, the then 35-year-old looked was playing as if he was 25. Against all odds he swaggered his way to a 5th Australian Open win and backed it up with an 8th Wimbledon championship. As he continues to defy age, don’t back against Federer to claim yet another title in south-west London this year.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) June 23, 2019
Monica Seles, the most incredible comeback story of them all. The Yugoslavian dominated the early 1990’s winning an incredible 7 major titles between 1990-1993. In 1991, Seles was denied the opportunity of winning all 4 majors in a calendar year after she was forced to withdraw through injury prior to Wimbledon. At the time, Seles was fiercely competing with German Steffi Graf, the pair regularly facing off in tournaments. However, in 1993, the whole sporting world was rocked after Seles was stabbed whilst playing on-court in Germany. The horrifying attack left Seles physically and mentally scarred, forcing her out of the game for 28 months.
It was debated whether or not Seles would ever return to the professional ranks. However, she bravely made a return in August 1995. Given the nature of the attack, the Yugoslavian put little pressure on herself heading into the US Open later that month. Almost miraculously, she battled her demons to reach the final where she came up against old foe Graf. The final proved one step too far, losing a titanic 3-set battle. However, Seles was not deterred and went on to win the Australian Open the following year to complete a remarkable comeback story. Even to make a return to the game was staggering, but going on to win a Major is the foundation of a truly inspirational story.
My childhood racquets . They always put a smile on my face 🎾love the game pic.twitter.com/OMHbsKvrZB
— Monica Seles (@MonicaSeles10s) March 31, 2016
Another juggernaut of the game, another potentially career-threatening injury. The amount of injuries suffered by most of, if not all the top players is indicative of the strains tennis puts on players bodies. Djokovic is no exception. The Serbian was picking up Major titles for fun during a golden period for men’s tennis. Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Murray amongst some other fine players regularly battled one-another during some mammoth on-court battles. After winning his 12th Major in June 2016, his first at Roland Garros, it appeared it may well be his last. Djokovic was suffering from chronic elbow pain and sat out much of the 2017 season to recover, hoping time would be a natural healer to his problems.
However, in January 2018, after losing in straight sets to the unseeded Chung Hyeon, the Serbian decided enough was enough. He underwent surgery to fix his troublesome elbow which had plagued him for over 2 years. His comeback story is all the more remarkable given his comments prior to his injury, admitting he wasn’t enjoying tennis and was contemplating retiring from the sport. Djokovic, like a true champion, overcame his mental and physical pain to surprisingly claim the Wimbledon title in 2018. It was over 2 years since his last Grand Slam win. Now the 32-year-old looks to once again be enjoying his tennis and heads into SW19 as the favourite to claim his 16th Major.
— The Boodles (@TheBoodles) June 21, 2019
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Image Credit Feature image: "Andy Murray hitting a forehand" by Carine06 Header image: "Exercise playground ball" by HeungSoon