In Seasonís Long March, Every Step Can Be Painful

Published: 2011-09-12 08:32:34


They are young and rich, world travelers who play a gentleman’s game. Hours of training outdoors have given them, men and women alike, bodies that are taut and tanned. Often exceedingly photogenic, they are the smiling faces for some of the world’s most exquisite consumer products.


And yet just beneath the surface, their world is far from perfect. But to know that, you would have to peek inside their shoes.

“James Blake is a beautiful man,” the former player Justin Gimelstob said, “but his feet are disgusting.”

Oh, those gnarly, festering feet: bunioned and blistered, callused and corned, with nails that are split, ingrown and blackened, if not gone altogether. By the end of a long, grueling hardcourt season, they can resemble fresh hamburger. Think of podiatry’s equivalent of Chuck Wepner’s face after 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali.

“I’ve always said the best way a tennis player knows his significant other really loves him is if that person sees his feet and still stays with him,” Gimelstob said.

But the effects of the ruthless tennis schedule go beyond aesthetics. Foot injuries force players to go through excruciating pain, requiring continual treatment that sometimes spills onto the court, delaying matches while physical therapists apply baby powder and bandages, anything to relieve the pressure.

“It’s painful, really painful,” said Jim Courier, a former world No. 1 and 1991 Open finalist who would go through as many as five pairs of shoes in a tournament. “It was painful in the ’90s; now, nearly 20 years later, the amount of sliding on hardcourts that these players do is something that’s foreign to me. Players these days are moving faster, they’re stopping faster, and that’s putting more pressure on their feet."