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First major produces more surprises

Andy Roddick's right shoulder injury was one of two surprise injuries at the Australian Open.

Andy Roddick's right shoulder injury was one of two surprise injuries at the Australian Open.

Roger Federer gliding his hands through his long, black hair, with sweat dripping off of every lock. Camera shots of his wife with her arms outstretched, celebrating another Grand Slam victory for her man. And the Melbourne crowd screaming, thankful as ever for another opportunity to watch the greatest win again, this, No. 16.

The ending to the Australian Open – Federer capturing another major in straight sets – we had seen before. We have watched the much-hyped last match end with a final set of drama even though everyone had memorized the last words of the chapter.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this year’s first major didn’t live up to its reputation of surprising us. It’s just that this year’s surprises weren’t the ones we want to see again.

The first revelation arrived with more confusion than the second. Here was Andy Roddick, a player known for his work ethic and great fitness, reaching for his right shoulder. After losing a set, he even called out the trainer.

We knew of Roddick’s bothersome knees, the injury led him to skip Davis Cup this year, but his right shoulder causing aches, the one in which his livelihood depends upon?

This was not a pestering injury that chose an awful time to reappear. This was a new pain that surfaces when you play tennis year-round with hardly any breaks.

But, to his credit, Roddick stayed in his quarterfinal contest against Marin Cilic, and even turned it into a match, winning the third and fourth set before falling in the fifth.

The second shocker was more of an eyebrow-raiser than an outright surprise. People probably expected Rafael Nadal to retire sometime during the tournament because of his nagging knees. But the knee injury that made him quit against Andy Murray in their quarterfinal was a new discomfort for Rafa, different from the tendonitis that has threatened his career.

Two top 10 tennis players, in skill and in popularity, reduced to mere editions of themselves, far from their best because of injuries. Both Roddick and Nadal might have lost even if they were healthy, but we’ll never know and that’s the shame of tennis’ offseason, or the maybe two months players don’t have tournaments to enter.

In few major events have we seen such glaring reminders of why tennis needs a longer break. Players have publicly complained about it for years, most recently, Roddick, coincidentally.

But how many more top 10 players need to bow out before tour officials to take them seriously? How many more matches will players need to tank at smaller tournaments to conserve their bodies for the Grand Slams before the rules are changed? And how many more careers will be threatened with injuries before the age of 30?

Tennis, like golf, as a sport, is especially afflicted when it loses its stars. The sport aches without its greatest stories, such as Rodick and Rafa. Some of the luster disappears, and tennis becomes even more of a niche activity to the non-participants.

But let’s not let it digress. Let’s fix the problem before it worsens and actually listen to the professionals: create a legitimate offseason.

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