2018-04-18 14:18:03
Injured in Tennis, She Put Her Psychology Degree to Use

14:18, April 18 120 0

DANIEL ISLAND, S.C. — A year ago, Laura Siegemund was coming off a surprising title in her hometown tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, and was considered a contender for the French Open. Then, abruptly, her hopes and right leg buckled.

At a tournament in Nuremberg, Germany, in May, the week before the French Open, Siegemund fell awkwardly as she slid to her right, tearing her right anterior cruciate ligament. She was carried off court on a stretcher, her season over.

Barbara Rittner, then the German Fed Cup captain, was with Siegemund as she lay on court, and she recounted Siegemund’s words in an interview on German television that day.

“This cannot be true — why now?” Rittner quoted Siegemund as saying.

The shock wore off quickly, replaced by clarity, Siegemund said in a recent interview. She realized she had gained something tennis players almost never have: free time.

The harsh setback pushed Siegemund forward in unexpected ways, allowing her to pursue her work in psychology, and stoking an already competitive mind-set.

“I had a lot of things on my list that I really want to do, and suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands to do them,” said Siegemund, who has ranked as high as 27th in the world. “All of these things came to my mind at the same time, so it kind of pushed away the negative about it.”

Siegemund, 30, relished spending more time with loved ones and further exploring psychology, the subject of the bachelor’s degree from the University of Hagen. She hopes to pursue an advanced degree in the field someday, but during her time off, she read books on the topic and emphasized it in corporate speaking engagements.

“I was speaking in front of companies and also the tennis federation, different kinds of audiences about psychological subjects,” Siegemund said. “Of course it was from the perspective of a professional athlete, but I tried to take it a little further, transferring what we experience on the court. I think you can transfer it to any area of life and business. I kind of liked that, to give my perspective on these things.”

Siegemund’s undergraduate thesis focused on a topic intrinsic to her life as a tennis player: choking under pressure. She says her expertise in the area does not necessarily protect her from collapsing.

“It does help me to have extra knowledge, but being able to apply it in these situations is a whole different thing,” she said. “Theory and practice are two completely different things. But it’s good to have the theory to try to apply it.”

On court, Siegemund is known as a dogged competitor with a ruthlessness that often unnerves her opponents.

“I think part of her game is to find out how to irritate the other person a little bit,” said Naomi Osaka, a recent opponent.

Siegemund said she had applied some of that same relentlessness to her rehabilitation process.

“I drive the people around me crazy sometimes because I’m very impatient, and if it’s not going forward, I can be a hard one to deal with,” she said. “But I’m getting up at 7, and I’m the first one to go in the place and the last one to go out. That’s a good thing about it also, but maybe sometimes it would be nice to be more relaxed and not be so competitive with it.”

Working diligently, Siegemund was ready for a return last month, but decided to wait until the tour shifted away from hardcourts.

“I had the doctors’ recommendation that I have to start on clay,” she said. “And also this is my favorite surface, so those two things came together.”

After playing one small tournament in Italy, Siegemund returned to the WTA Tour and won her first match on April 2 at the Volvo Car Open in this island community near Charleston. She lost in the second round to Osaka, the recent Indian Wells champion, after holding four set points in the second set.

Siegemund feels confident in her knee, she said, but still wears a large brace on her right leg for some physical and mental reassurance.

“I do want to take it off,” she said, laughing. “It doesn’t look very pretty, it’s really ugly. Maybe a shout-out to all the people that make braces, maybe they can do something nice instead of this.”

Siegemund, who notched five wins against top-10 players on clay last year, said she did not dwell on what might have been during her recovery, even though the French Open yielded many upsets, including the championship victory by an unseeded Jelena Ostapenko.

“I’m not on that hypothetical trip so much,” Siegemund said. “What happened to me, I had to deal with it. I saw it as a task I had to manage, and I think that helped me to get through all of it in a positive way, and really come back stronger, a little bit, from it.”

Siegemund’s next tournament will be next week in Stuttgart, where last year she won her second WTA title. In addition to the trophy and prize money, Siegemund earned a car from Porsche, the title sponsor of the event. The company did a custom paint job in “frozen berry,” a color that Siegemund described as purplish taupe, and by the time the car was finished, its owner could not bend her knee enough to get in.

Siegemund said she was not putting pressure on herself to succeed quickly, but she has not dimmed her expectations after returning to tour as what she considers a better-rounded player and person, while still hungry for on-court success.

“I don’t want to be where I was before — I want to be better than that,” she said. “But maybe in a different way.”