Time Out --
I watch tennis for a lot of reasons. Recently, my rationale for this pastime has expanded as I am learning all about unusual and infrequently encountered medical problems that affect young superstar athletes in the peak of their athletic prime.
Like rib dysfunction.
If you are not a tennis spectator, then let me explain. During a match, a professional tennis player is allowed to call one injury time out, at which point a trainer trots out onto the court and addresses the "injury."
Here is the USTA rule on medical time outs (italics mine):
No extra time shall be given to allow a player to recover condition. However, a player suffering from a treatable medical condition may be allowed one medical time-out of three minutes for the treatment of that medical condition.
What is treatable and what is treatment? I'm sure they don't know, so why put that word in the rule?
And three minutes to treat? Are they kidding? What's the sense? The truth is, medical time outs almost always take longer than three minutes; for example, Serena Williams took a medical time out in the women's final at the Australian Open this weekend and actually took eight minutes, on and off court!
It is really remarkable how frequently these top superstar athletes are injured during important matches. Of course, the injuries almost always come at a time when the injured player is losing (I guess that makes sense, right?).
Description of a New Medical Phenomenon
Even more remarkable is the way I have anecdotally observed that an injury time out represents a turning point in a match. I suppose, logically, that if the trainer is able to successfully "fix" or ameliorate the injury, then the superstar player returns to superstar status and is able to better compete.
Trouble is, I don't believe that. I have to laugh every time I see this little piece of gamesmanship in action. This weekend, in the Australian Open finals, I watched the "time out turnaround event" (TOTE) phenomenon occur twice.
Ribs? I Like Mine Barbecued
In the women's final, Serena Williams (a regular TOTE user) was playing against Lindsay Davenport, and losing badly during the first set. Unforced errors, two breaks of serve, and general malaise plagued Serena's game.
Suddenly, Serena began wincing and stretching on every point, reaching for her chest wall and scowling. Then she called an injury time out. The trainer attended to Serena's rib cage as Davenport cooled her heels, and her game.
When Serena came back out to play, the TOTE reared its magical head. Serena -- showing absolutely no further discomfiture -- steamrolled Davenport for the next two sets and walked away with the title. It was a classic TOTE phenomenon.
Serena would later say that she was suffering from "rib dysfunction" and that the trainer "popped it back in," thus the miraculous recovery. She said:
"I reached for a backhand and I think it tweaked my back out, one of my ribs out"
"I finally decided, ‘OK, why don’t you call for the trainer and see if she can put it back in place?’ She did, and everything worked out"
Problem is that there is no such thing as rib dysfunction and ribs can neither pop out nor in. Evolutionarily, the ribs developed as a solid, unmoving apparatus designed to be a source of order, design, and stability, guarding the delicate Samba dance that goes on beneath their bony framework. If ribs were poppable, there would be dead tennis players littering the grand slam courts -- and no one would ever watch!
Sure, you can find the topic of rib dysfunction on the web, but predictably, it is an undocumented, unproven, unstudied diagnosis used by non medical personnel who make money by snowing patients with exaggerated physiological descriptions of human anatomy and teleological speculations designed to baffle uninformed consumers. Here's a good example.
By the way, FSU is looking to open a graduate school teaching rib dysfunction treatment along with dozens of other unproven therapies -- so maybe Serena is on to something?
Not a Sex Gene Related Phenomenon
TOTE is not exclusive to the women's circuit. Marat Safin showed that he CAN learn something as he slumped to the sideline at a critical point in the third set when he seemed to be orchestrating a typical big match Safin breakdown.
Tied at one set each, Safin and Lleyton Hewitt were at a critical juncture in the match. Playing brilliantly in the third set, saving break points and breaking Safin's serve for a 3-0 lead, Hewitt clearly had the match momentum moving his way. After the third game of the set, Safin slammed his racquet to the court and trudged to the sideline where he promptly...called a medical time out!
It was quite humorous to watch the trainer attend to Safin. The "treatment" consisted of rubbing Ben Gay into Safin's dorsal thighs over a drawn out, unctuous several minutes (more than three, seemed to me). It was even more humorous to hear Saffin explain that there may have been trouble with the blood circulating in his thighs...egad!
It is certain, to me, that the trainers understands exactly what is happening when these superstar athletes, in the prime of their athletic lives, calls these time outs. I'm sure that if the trainers were to poke around and quickly assure the players -- within the three minutes of time allowed -- that there was nothing serious amiss, said trainers would be quickly out of work and applying for adsmission at the FSU chiropractic college.
The TOTE worked again as Safin returned to the court and proceeded to mow down Lleyton Hewitt from then on -- to convincingly win the slam.
It seems a worthwhile sports science topic -- the TOTE. A study of the process might go a long way in understanding sports physiology and psychology, and may also help, eventually to refine the rule so that it isn't so commonly abused. If I were Davenport or Hewitt, I would be even more interested in elucidation of this phenomenon.