Everyone Looks Bad After Victoria Azarenka's Collapse
She is going to be OK. But one small point is worth mentioning: there is no way Azarenka should have been on that court in the first place.
I'm not sure where the failure comes in, whether it was the fault of the United States Tennis Association, the doctors, Azarenka and her handlers – I'll guess blame goes to all three -- but this deserves an investigation for the safety of the players going forward.
Red flags were up and waving in everyone's faces before the match even started. Azarenka later issued a statement saying that she had a mild concussion. But how bad could this have been, with a player losing consciousness on her feet while standing over a hard tennis court? "Victoria Azarenka retired from her match with headache-like symptoms," U.S. Open tournament referee Brian Earley said in a statement.
Headache-like symptoms? I'm sorry, but does that actually mean something? Your head aches or it doesn't ache. It's not like flu-like symptoms, where you have some of the things you get with a flu, but might not have the real thing.
There are no headache-like symptoms. Besides, I've never heard of a headache that makes you fall down and bang your head. And when someone issues a statement like that, it jumps right out at you, suggests that someone is trying to cover his own backside. What a shock to see a 21-year old world-class athlete just drop like a hat in the middle of a major competition. Azarenka is ranked No. 11 and is one of the hottest players on tour. Plenty of people picked her to win the tournament.
The match ended with her down 5-1 to Gisela Dulko. That's right, 5-1. She trailed 4-0 to a player that isn't nearly as good as she is. Warning signal. She lost the first three games and then called out a trainer. Warning signal! She was wobbling from the start of the match.
People are going to think it was about the intense heat in New York. On the court, it was over 100 degrees. And Azarenka had a problem with the heat last year in Australia, too. Maybe that was a small part of the problem Wednesday. Maybe. But late in the afternoon Wednesday, Azarenka issued her own statement:
"I was warming up in the gym prior to my match ... when I fell while running a sprint. I fell forward and hit my arm and head. I was checked by the medical team before I went on court and they were courtside for monitoring.
"I felt worse as the match went on, having a headache and feeling dizzy. I also started having trouble seeing and felt weak before I fell."
Let me get this straight. She banged her head before the match, and a doctor cleared her to play. You could see the minute the match started that she wasn't right, and doctors were sitting there watching, but didn't see the obvious.
Then, three games into the match, she called out a doctor, or a trainer, and said she was losing feeling in her fingers and had a headache. She returned to the court. How many checks and balances were just plowed through here?
So I called Earley, who said he wouldn't speak about Azarenka's case – to respect privacy – but would speak about policy in general.
"If there is some question as to a player's ability to play a match," he said, "we would ask her to see a doctor. At the same time, we would have to know in advance (that there was a problem.)"
Sounds as if he's saying that the USTA didn't know that Azarenka had gotten hurt. Yet, she says she saw a team of doctors. It's a safe bet that she didn't bring her personal doctors to New York with her, as she lives in Arizona. So those doctors were likely the ones that USTA had on the grounds at Flushing Meadows. Why wouldn't the USTA have known about it then?
Or, maybe it did. Maybe the USTA was responsible for sending her to the doctors in the first place, and the doctors simply cleared a woman, twice, who was struggling with consciousness and on the verge of falling down.
I need a pie chart to adequately split up the blame here. But start with the biggest slice of pie: it goes to Azarenka. We applaud athletes for fighting through injury, and maybe it was OK for her to give it a try. But when she took the court, already shaky, and then started losing feeling in her fingers?
But what were the doctors sitting courtside looking at, anyway? The entire match was just 34 minutes, and they kept waiting and waiting until she banged her head.
Maybe these things aren't easy to detect, but this feels like system failure.
The warning signs piled up, and that did not include headache-like symptoms. Someone, probably a bunch of someones, should have stopped this thing before a young, top athlete was lying there in a heap.
It could have been much worse.
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