Sharapova's Road to Recovery

There is no greater buzz kill to a tournament director, TV executive, tour official, and fan than a marquee player missing a tournament due to an injury - for the player it’s a living nightmare.

This summer, Maria Sharapova's quest to become the first Russian woman to obtain the number one ranking was well within her grasp. All she needed to do was reach the semifinals of the JP Morgan Chase Open. It was at this event during a third round match against fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze that Sharapova’s infamous grunt, sounded more like a groan of agony. Playing with tape on her right pectoral muscle, the tenacious teenager winced after each forehand from the searing pain in her pec, limiting her ability to serve and fire forehands with her typical force, but the top-seeded Sharapova still slipped past Chakvetadze.

Sharapova’s troubles began long before the start of the JP Morgan Chase Open. She has been suffering from a chronic overuse injury to her right pectoral muscle for the past nine months. The injury first occurred last October at the Zurich Open.

After the Chakvetadze match, Sharapova said that she felt pain in the muscle when she struck her shots and the harder she hit the more painful it became. By the following morning she was forced to withdraw from the event.

"There's nothing torn, thank god, but it keeps coming back. It's the whole muscle, and (it) hurts on the moment of impact. The more you play and the bigger you hit, the more painful it is." It's not important for me to play," Sharapova said at the time. "I always feel terrible pulling out. It's not me. But if it comes to a point where I can't serve without pain and it could hurt me for the Open, there's no reason thinking about No.1 or anything else. As much as I want to play, it's more important to take care of your body and be ready for the U.S. Open. I'm just going to wait and take care of it tonight."

The 2004 Wimbledon champion would not be able to resume her quest to move to No. 1 in the world, as she faced a challenge far more tenuous; would she be able to recover in time to compete in the U.S. Open? That night the Sharapova camp made a call for help.

Sharapova’s agent Max Eisenbud recalled that another client, Justin Gimelstob, had a similar injury after Wimbledon. Gimelstob, who had been treated by Los Angles based physical therapist Robert Forster, was back on the tour in less than a month after his injury.

“Justin went through a very similar injury to Maria and told me that Bob was the best.” Eisenbud said.

“I got a call from Maria’s camp after the Chakvetadze match. I went to her hotel and evaluated her and after a strategic meeting we realized it was much more important to pull out and get healthy for New York.” Forster said.

Forster is no stranger to the urgent request of superstar athletes as he has practiced Sports Physical Therapy in Santa Monica, CA for more than twenty years. He spent his early years treating runners and dancers, establishing himself as a leader in the health and fitness community. Before entering the tennis world, Robert served as a private physical therapist at the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics for Olympians Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Florence Griffith Joyner and Gail Devers who along with their teammates won a combined 24 Olympic Medals under his direct care. Robert has witnessed a massive tapestry of injuries and loss, comebacks successful and failed, leads gained and squandered. He currently owns and operates the Forster Physical Therapy Clinic.

Sharapova was not Forster’s first experience working with a Wimbledon champion. In 2000, Forster crossed paths with Pete Sampras and helped the former number one come back from several injuries to achieve his unprecedented 7th Wimbledon Championship and record breaking thirteenth Grand Slam title.

“We decided that the goal was for Maria to be fit to play by the start of the U.S. Open, so I treated her twice a day up until New York,” said Forster “I even did my first ever treatment on a private jet.”

The blonde Russian immediately proved that she was fit by winning her first four matches in an average of 59 minutes, surrendering only 12 games in the process. In the Semifinals she saved five match points before succumbing to eventual champion Kim Clijsters.

“I was not going to play the US Open if I was not a 100% fit and Bob helped me get there,” Sharapova said.

Forster has prescribed a rehab program for her pec injury. The plan is to reassess every couple months to gauge how to progress the strengthening in her muscles. Sharapova had injured the muscle fibers of her pectoral, which tries to heal by building up scar tissue, which then in turn causes a loss of function in the muscle.

“Most important to her treatment is specific manual therapy techniques to break up the scar tissue and then we implemented a strengthening and stretching program. When she got to the Open she was pain free in her right pectoral muscle.” Forster said. “When you have a willing participant in her own rehab like Maria, you can get the job done."

“People ask me if I’m disappointed that Maria lost in the semifinals, I said no, she’s got a couple weeks before her next competition. With the Olympic athletes it’s four years, that’s disappointment,” Forster said. “The biggest problem is these athletes are playing too much. Somehow they have to play less and train more to bring out their peak performance.”


You can also click below to see video of Maria's treatment.
Video 1
Video 2

September 2, 2005

Dear friends of Forster Physical Therapy and Phase IV Scientific Training Center,

I wanted to share some very exciting news with you. As many of you know, tennis and media darling Maria Sharapova has been suffering from an injury to her pectoral muscle for the past nine months. The international sports media has been closely watching this story to see if Maria would be able to fully recover.

Unable to defend her Wimbledon title and with the US Open quickly approaching, the Sharapova camp contacted Forster PT and Phase IV asking for help. And for the past month we've been working with Maria through her rehabilitation.

"Maria is a great competitor with incredible focus and even greater potential", said Robert Forster, PT from New York. Bob is with Maria at the US Open, continuing to work daily with her through her drive to regain the #1 world tennis ranking. As you've seen, Maria is doing exceptionally well in the opening rounds.

The media continues to ask about the injury daily. In fact, our own Bob Forster, PT has been interviewed and mentioned several times on USA Network during US Open coverage. We thought you would appreciate knowing that the same care and attention we've provided you over the years is helping Maria as she works to win the 2005 US Open.

Your friends at Forster PT and Phase IV Scientific Training Center