American Jared Donaldson has already accomplished a lot in his young career. The Rhode Island native cracked the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings just after his 21st birthday, and he also qualified for the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
But last year, Donaldson hit a roadblock. A couple of days before his first match at Wimbledon, he was practising with Aussie Matthew Ebden when he realised something was wrong.
“Man, my knee is really painful,” Donaldson thought at the time.
He didn’t think much of it, as “you play with injuries almost all the time. There’s always something bothering you, it’s sports.” Donaldson felt it a little bit during his first-round match, but it was manageable, “barely registering on the Richter scale”.
It progressively got worse though, and his knee began to really bother him when playing Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round. Donaldson came back from down two sets to lead by a break in the fifth set, but he was unable to complete the comeback.
“Pulling out never crossed my mind, really. I guess it did a little bit, but I never thought it would be detrimental like it was and at that point the damage had probably already been done. I felt like I probably had chances to win that match,” Donaldson said. “He’s gone on to do great things and I’ve sat on my couch. It was beneficial for both of us.”
It turned out that Donaldson was suffering from patellar tendonosis. Considering the position Donaldson was in, many players would have been devastated. But the 22-year-old focused on the positives of the situation.
“It’s upsetting to feel like I was in a nice groove and really progressing forward and getting injured kind of stopped that, but I never really thought about it like that. I felt when I was injured, we’re all on our own journey and I felt that that was just part of my journey,” Donaldson said. “Whether I got hurt or whatever happened, I always felt like whatever place I was in, what I could do, I was doing, and that was part of what I needed to do to get better and to improve and feel better so I didn’t really compare it to what other guys were doing. I was just focused on what I could do and needed to do.”
Donaldson felt that he needed to improve his serve in particular. In his career, the American has landed just 52 per cent of his first serves, winning 74 per cent of those points.
“One of things that held me back in a lot of ways was my serve. Being able to work on my serve and really fix issues I think were wrong with it and not worry about my result [was beneficial],” Donaldson said. “I could really rework it and focus on what technically needed to be done to make the changes. I think the injury will end up being a blessing in disguise. I truly believe that.”
Donaldson returns this week at the Delray Beach Open, ranked World No. 120. While his momentum came to a halt, the California resident is ready to start his journey back. He’ll look to get off to a good start against Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on Tuesday.
“Probably more than anything I’m just excited to play my first-round match. I’m focusing more on my first-round match than any other time because I don’t know what to expect really,” Donaldson said. “I’ll take it from there.
“It feels pretty good [to be back]. I think in tennis, time seems to be a flat circle, so everybody is still playing from when I was playing seven months ago. Everyone is getting better so I’m really excited to get back out and compete and see how I do.”