When Taylor Fritz had to be assisted off court at Roland Garros following an injury which was later revealed to be a torn meniscus, it seemed his Wimbledon was already over.
Surely a player who tears a meniscus at the start of June would not be ready to compete in a tournament which begins at the end of June. Surely the demands of modern tennis — with developed racquet technology in a sport which requires violent stop-and-start movements — would preclude Fritz from being able to make a go of it at Wimbledon, even though this is a tournament where the American’s huge serve is rewarded.
Surely, a quick comeback from early-June knee surgery would have to wait until August, after the Olympics.
Fritz not only won a first-round match at Wimbledon this week; he then took the court the very next day — due to the backlogged, rain-affected schedule at the All-England Club — and won a five-setter against former Wimbledon fourth-round participant Steve Johnson in 3 hours and 46 minutes.
Fritz has defied the odds, but he isn’t acting like a defiant person. He himself told ESPN’s Jason Goodall and Brad Gilbert after the win over Johnson, “I don’t know how this is even possible.”
He is right there with the rest of us, amazed that he could recover so quickly.
Nine sets in 26 hours, playing main-draw matches at Wimbledon 3.5 weeks after knee surgery?
It’s impossible to wrap the mind around all that… but Fritz gained medical clearance. That black sleeve you see in the cover photo is a medical sleeve, not a personal comfort sleeve.
Maybe something bad will happen to the knee in the near future. Maybe there is a price to pay down the line. Yet, it remains that for anyone — such as myself — who thought that playing Wimbledon seemed out of the question, Fritz and his team thought that playing was still realistic.
After two wins in nine sets of tennis on back-to-back days, it’s hard if not impossible to argue with the choice.
There is a lot to ponder about a situation which defies easy logic.
First, athletes know their bodies better than we do. Their view is what counts, provided that certain decisions or options are made available to them by doctors or advisers. This doesn’t mean the athlete is infallible, just that the athlete knows his or her body in a way an outsider never can or will.
Second, imagine if this medical capacity had been available for players of bygone eras. When we consider the revolutionary effects of Tommy John surgery for baseball pitchers, and when we look at how basketball superstar Kevin Durant is back to playing at a world-class level after rupturing his right Achilles tendon, once viewed as a death-knell for a top athlete’s career, it’s clear that the Taylor Fritz story is a massive, hope-filled occurrence for tennis players. They have a concrete example of how an athlete can not only survive a significant injury but recuperate relatively quickly. This capacity exists on a scale not enjoyed by previous generations of tennis professionals.
Third, and on a more sobering note, recuperative and restorative surgical procedures exist beyond the financial means of tens of millions of Americans. While we celebrate and admire Taylor Fritz’s recovery and victories at Wimbledon, spare a thought for Americans unable to take advantage of the wonders of modern medicine, in a health care superstructure (such as it is) which is highly punitive toward people who lack money.
Taylor Fritz isn’t getting huge headlines the way Andy Murray — bearer of a metal hip — is keeping media outlets buzzing at Wimbledon this week. That’s okay.
Let’s simply stop and realize how significant this story is on several levels, as we express a mixture of gratitude, awe and sadness at the ways in which this story will resonate with people in various life situations.