Dr. George Varghese has advised tennis stars like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on their injuries

Anyone who has watched competitive tennis over the last decade will be familiar with a few names that have risen to the top. And no one can talk tennis nowadays without mentioning Roger Federer, the unflappable Swiss specialist, and Novak Djokovic, as famous for his stupendous performances on court as his antics off it, which have earned him the affectionate nickname ‘Djoker’. But what most do not know is that these greats, who hail from and play at some of the most exotic locations in the world, were helped out in some small way by a doctor from simple and humble Thrissur in God’s Own Country.

The man in question is Dr. George Varghese, a knee and shoulder specialist who focuses mainly on sports injuries and arthritis. As the official physician on court during the Dubai Open in 2009 and 2010, he has interacted with Federer, Djokovic, Andy Murray, Marcos Baghdatis and many other top players in international tennis during his stint.

He is professional when speaking about his duties during the tournament. “While it is a well known fact that most international players now have their own physiotherapists, hiring a doctor on a full time basis can be quite an expensive affair. So the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) usually provides doctors for each tournament to help the players as necessary and I was given the task in Dubai. While my interaction with Federer cannot be defined as a treatment, I did help out Novak with a small issue,” he says, reclining comfortably in his chair.

He was also quite impressed by Djokovic’s attachment to his family, “While most tennis players travel alone, Novak is usually accompanied by at least his brother, if not the whole family, which is nice,” he says. He then recounts how the players often practice for hours on the day of an important game, describing how he watched Andy Murray practice 1,000 serves non-stop and return another 1,000 from his coach.

Tips to Federer

He goes on to talk about the time when he gave Roger Federer a few helpful tips. “I told Roger that he may get better results against Rafael Nadal by employing more underspin on his slices instead of topspin. Thankfully, he chose to humour me and mentioned half jokingly that he would take my advice. Later, in 2011, I noticed him use this strategy a few times and then told my family that Roger Federer is taking my advice!” he says lightly. George also adds that he extended an invitation to Federer to visit India, something which the Swiss has apparently agreed to do before he retires.

An avid tennis player himself, George decided to specialise in orthopaedics with the aim of treating knee and joint problems in athletes and helping them recover as fast as possible. He is Associate Professor and Head of Department of Sports Injuries and Arthritis at Jubilee Mission Medical College in Thrissur and a visiting senior consultant at Queensland Health in Australia. With a flourishing medical career in place, he also returned to playing tennis in the senior category, reaching the semifinals in the singles category in the ITF Asian Open Tennis Championship held in Thailand in 2009.

The role of a ‘physio’

So what brought him back to good old Kerala despite making a name for himself abroad? Wanting to make a difference, he says. A clichéd answer delivered in a very refreshing way. “The kind of specialisation I have is a vague one. In relation to sports, the role of a ‘physio’ is well defined and understood, but the exact role of a doctor is not. While I do not claim to be the only person capable of treating sports injuries, there are very few people who devote their time exclusively for this purpose. Athletes today have so many treatment options when they injure themselves, but often they do not get the right help at the right time and hence worsen otherwise minor injuries. There are many cases when young sportsmen lose their careers for this reason, and I hope to help avoid that,” he says. George has also helped out local sportspersons and celebrities, with Madhu Warrier and Sreejith Ravi being a few notable examples that have benefited from his treatment and surgical expertise.

Being a keen sportsman, he empathises with athletes who struggle through injury, and “being able to understand their frustration” is a great motivator to do the work he does, George believes. Whether it is international greats or local sportsmen, celebrities or arthritis riddled individuals, George seems to see each case with the same unruffled disposition with which he answers our questions. Either way, the fact that stories along the lines of ‘Swades’ happen in reality is heartening, for the nation as a whole and our sportspersons in particular