For older players, injuries are an unavoidable—but manageable—part of the game. (AP)

Every tennis player is susceptible to short- and long-term injuries. But as we age, it’s increasingly important to find the sweet spot between keeping active, and letting the body recover from both exertion and injury.

“As you get older, you don’t need to play as much to maintain your level,” says Bob Litwin, a former No. 1 player in the 55-and-older ranks. Litwin used to play daily, but now limits himself to three times a week, unless he’s preparing for a tournament.

“The average club player doesn’t realize the importance of taking time off,” adds Litwin. “Recovery is huge. It makes us better.”

By the same token, Kimiko Date, who retired from the WTA at age 46, has said that getting plenty of sleep was one of the secrets to her longevity.

“Listen to your body. You don’t recover nearly as quickly as when you’re younger,” says Anne Hobbs, a two-time Grand Slam doubles finalist. The 58-year-old believes the benefits of such prudence extend to
how you compete: “When your muscles are tired, your mind is also tired.”

When the body breaks down and injuries occur, dealing with them requires a case-by-case evaluation. Short-term damage merits a break, says Litwin, who will take three weeks off to let a “cranky” shoulder recover, and pays attention to how every decision might impact his body—even what arm he uses to carry his racquet bag.

Conversely, many players unwisely decide to play through chronic issues. “I will play injured unless I’m really injured,” says Steve Halpern, a 77-year-old from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, who regularly sees a chiropractor. “Two years ago, I had a pulled calf, but played a tournament. I lost in the final with the pulled calf. I put [kinesiology] tape on it, and it did wonders.”

Every tennis player relishes the intensity of competition, or even just being on the court. But it’s important for Halpern and others to recognize when a potentially serious injury has occurred, or worsened.

“Don’t be a hero,” says club player David Slater. “If you hurt yourself, or feel something is hurt, don’t play through it. Go to a doctor, rest up and live to fight another day.”