Emma Raducanu was blighted by blisters in her second-round victory over Camila Osorio at the Citi Open, sparking fresh concerns over whether she will be in good enough condition to mount a defence of her US Open title.
It is not unusual for top-level tennis players to suffer from blisters. Even seasoned pros can develop calluses due to the repetitive gripping action and excessively squeezing their rackets in tense moments. Rafael Nadal famously battled through his 2014 Australian Open quarter-final despite suffering an horrific callus blister which split on court.
But Raducanu has had more than her fair share of woes during her first season on tour. A blister on her dominant racket hand hampered her efforts at the Australian Open at the start of the year, while another on her right foot derailed her movement around the court during her straight sets loss to Marketa Vondrousova at April’s Billie Jean King Cup.
So why is it such a recurring problem, and what can she do about it?
Raducanu started blowing on her hands midway through her encounter with Osario, who also suffered with a foot blister on the court. Both required medical timeouts late on and the trainer could be seen taping up Raducau’s sore hand, which played a part in the 51 unforced errors she committed en route to closing out the match. Afterwards, on-court interviewer Rennae Stubbs was visibly shocked by Raducanu’s injuries – even inviting her to hold them up to the camera – as Raducanu described how the skin had been “ripping off” her hand.
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What are blisters and why does Raducanu keep getting them?
Essentially, blisters are caused by repeated exposure to trauma and friction. “Sometimes we just don't know why blisters happen, some people are just really sensitive to them,” said Dr Bella Smith, a NHS GP partner and co-founder of female athlete health hub, The Well HQ. “A blister is a form of defence. Its purpose is to create a fluid to try and protect itself from the trauma and ultimately then it gets calloused and thick. The fact that Emma’s are related to one area recurrently – her racket hand – means it will be related to trauma, friction and heat. It’s basically a burn and they can be really difficult to solve, because tennis is her job, and it can be really difficult to manage.”
Will she be fit for the US Open?
The short answer is yes, although it will not be straightforward. Timeout from tennis to allow the skin to heal is one option, although that is hardly feasible given she is deep in preparations for the defence of her US Open crown. “There could be some barrier creams she could try,” suggested Dr Smith. “We do use certain creams to protect the skin, but if it's going to become a problem for her she may need to go and see a dermatologist and get it looked at.”
Could she need to change her racket?
Since her Flushing Meadows success, Raducanu is understood to have used different models of the Wilson Blade racket. She is currently into a four-year deal with the manufacturer, which is believed to be worth around £100,000-a-year.
Using cushioned grips is one method to keep blisters and hand sores at bay, as they help provide a unique felt layer for absorbing sweat. But the root cause of the problem may be more complex than that.
“In Emma’s case, it might even be something on the racket that she's allergic to which is irritating her skin,” says Dr Smith. “It may be worth looking at the fabric around the racket handle and use one with hypoallergenic fabric.”
Will she be hampered by blisters forever?
It is hard to say, but as she exposes her body to the rigours of top-level tennis, her hands could harden and adapt, according to Dr Smith.