Serena Williams injured her ankle during her match at the Australian Open earlier this week, putting her chance at another Grand Slam title and the mythical "Serena Slam" in jeopardy.
Luckily, I have an expert on tennis and sports medicine around for just these occasions. My father, Dr. Bill Carroll, is the director of the Athletic Training Education Program at the University of Mobile and quite the tennis player himself. I asked him for his expert opinion on Williams' injury and here's what he told me:
"Williams suffered a low second-degree inversion ankle sprain in her first-round match at the Australian Open.The damage was most likely to the anterior talofibular ligament with possible involvement of the calcaneofibular ligament. These ligaments are on the outside (lateral aspect) of the ankle and are designed to prevent inversion (“rolling over”) of the ankle. This is a common injury suffered by athlete in virtually every sport.
The commonality of the injury in this case is dwarfed by the schedule which allows very little in terms of rest time between matches; Williams' playing style requires more movement and more powerful movement than many other players in the tournament.
This, plus Serena’s body structure puts greater stress on her ankles than most other players in the tournament. Also, Serena is probably five years older that most of the other players in the field, and age is not an advantage to injury recovery of a competing athlete—even one with the heart of a champion like Serena Williams.
A sprain is by definition damage to the structural integrity of a ligament and is normally caused by the ligament being stretched to its yield point. The normal treatment for such an injury would be PRICE, which stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
I have no doubt that the athletic trainers at the Open will follow each of these steps with the exception of rest, which is just not possible for someone competing at a Grand Slam tournament where 48 hours between matches is the most that you can hope for.
Also, tennis is a timing sport requiring players to hit with their “hitting partner” (part of their coaching team) on the days when they do not have a match.
After the injury, Serena’s ankle was taped by the athletic trainer and she was able to complete and win her match. Two things have to be taken into consideration; 1. This was a first-round match and her competition is going to get better as she advances in the tournament; and 2. The swelling that accompanies a sprain and limits range of motion usually does not become complete until at least 12 hours post injury.
The most likely course of treatment is going to involve application of ice, possibly electrical stimulation to promote venous circulation to help reduce swelling and probably the administration of anti-inflammatory and pain medications. Williams will need to be taped or braced to play and this will limit some of her movement. I feel certain that she will be receiving multiple treatments each day as long as she continues to advance in the tournament.
What is the outlook for Williams' hopes of winning the Australian Open?
The draw is definitely to her advantage. Her most formidable opponents in that half of the draw are Petra Kvitova and Maria Kirilenko, both of whom Williams has beaten with regularity. Kvitova was knocked out in the first round, opening things up further.
If she is able to continue to play at 85 percent of her normal level, she should make it to the final where her most likely opponent would either be Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova or her sister, Venus Williams. (Venus Williams will play Sharapova in the third round of the tournament.) Serena has a significant winning percentage versus both of these players.
Serena has played through injuries before and competed well. However, an ankle injury with insufficient rest will definitely challenge her skill and determination to play her power game necessary for success.
After the tournament, with proper rest and treatment, Williams should recover well within six to eight weeks, during which she will be able to give the ankle sufficient rest to allow it to heal properly so that it will not be a recurring problem during her quest for the 'Serena Slam.'"
Will Carroll has been writing about sports injuries for 12 years. His work has appeared at SI.com, ESPN.com and Football Outsiders. He was assisted on this article by Dr. Bill Carroll of the University of Mobile. Dr. Carroll has been in sports medicine for decades at all levels. Together, they published the Carroll Guide to Sports Injuries in 2010.