First, let us clearly state that shoulder injuries and possible causes are outside of our area of expertise. We have studied and possess a solid understanding of tennis elbow, but shoulder issues are a different animal.
With that duly noted, Maria Sharapova is currently attempting to comeback from serious shoulder surgery (rotator cuff). We have read reports that only now, AFTER the surgery, the Sharapova camp is examining her equipment. The results will not be surprising to those who read our blog entries and tweets.
A review of Maria’s racquet has found the the Prince O3 and Speedport frames Maria was using have some undesirable specifications from a health perspective. As a result, it has been reported that Maria has switched from her previous racquet to a different Prince racquet. The report indicates the weapon Sharapova now weilds is less stiff than her previous frame and is a standard 27″ in length. It is reported her previous racquet was 27 1/2″ in length.
We have whined long and hard about the high stiffness ratings of the frames Prince has been producing. From our perspective, the majority of Prince’s newer frames offer undesirable specs from an arm health perspective. We believe a healthy frame has a flex rating in the mid 60’s or lower, is a standard length (27″), weighs approx. 11oz or greater, and offers a head light balance. The flex rating is the only specification that can not be modified through customization and thus we believe is the first spec to consider when evaluating racquets.
Team Sharapova is wisely reportedly reviewing her string setup as well. Previously Maria was using the Babolat Hurricane as her main strings with a natural gut cross. The Hurricane is a stiff and unforgiving poly-based string, similar in that respect to the Luxilon ALU. Her stringer has moved her to Luxilon M2 mains with a natural gut cross. While we applaud the effort to review the equipment and make this change, we would suggest going with the natural gut in the mains and a newer generation soft poly-based string in the crosses for added control.
It is impossible to know the exact cause of Maria’s injury, but we do know that stiff strings and a stiff frame such as she was using do transmit extra shock to the body. Over time, it is the shock that causes the body to break down and promotes injuries.
Look at the photo above. Even the professionals do not strike the ball squarely on each hit. In the shot above, Maria is striking the ball in the upper 1/3 rd of the hitting area. Any shot not centered is going to create extra shock. It is only wise to examine your equipment, (frame and strings), to determine if it helps to absorb this shock or if it promotes the transfer of the shock to the body.
It is possible that the cumulative effect of shock contributed to or possibly caused Maria’s injury. It is wise of her team to now examine her equipment and switch her to a frame and string set up that will help prevent excessive shock from reaching her body.
All recreational players should pay attention and take a cue from this. It is best to do so as a preventative measure. Do not be like Maria and make the change AFTER surgery. Analyze your equipment and make sure it is arm friendly. The friendliest strings are natural gut and premium multis. It is wise to do this evaulation prior to experiencing any arm pain.
Good luck and stay healthy!