Fuhr Overcomes Wrist Injury, Opponents
By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer
Almost three years ago at the McDonald’s Mid-Atlantic Clay Court Championships, then 15-year-old Anna Fuhr experienced one of the finest moments of her budding tennis career when she upset Virginia Commonwealth’s Katarina Yergina, the third-winningest player in program history.
One day later, the local junior standout suffered through one of the lowest points of her life when she hurt her left wrist in another match at Salisbury Country Club.
“I just hit a backhand and it popped,” said Fuhr. “I finished the match but I really went from 100 percent hitting a backhand to not being able to hit a single backhand or even hold a racquet. It got so bad that I couldn’t open a door or brush my hair.”
The injury would bother her for the next 14 months – until she finally found someone who could figure out what was wrong and fix it – but it also enabled her to add another weapon to her arsenal – a slice backhand.
A two-handed backhand, which she previously used, was out of the question because of the pain.
Since she is right-handed, “I never stopped playing,” Fuhr said. “I really focused on my slice backhand. So I could play matches.”
After being unable to get any answers locally about her wrist, Fuhr’s parents took her to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where Dr. Richard Berger, a noted orthopedic surgeon, discovered the problem and was able to finally repair it with surgery on a tendon.
“Right now, it’s 100 percent,” she said. “I don’t have any problems with it when I’m playing matches. It’s been really pain-free.”
Armed with what her coach, Gonzalo Garcia, calls “today’s game,” Fuhr will graduate from The Steward School on June 2 and head south to Atlanta and Emory University, which won the NCAA Division III women’s team championship on May 21.
Fuhr has been playing tennis since she was “old enough to hold a racquet.” Both of her parents, Joy and Ed, played the game. In fact, Joy was a touring pro (known as Joy Cummings) and quite a good one, ranked as high as 145th in the world.
But there was never any pressure placed on Anna to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“You only have that one chance to have your childhood,” said Joy Fuhr, “and do what you want to be doing. So yes, we knew about the game. Yes, we enjoyed tennis. It’s a good thing to do. But you’re more worried that you’re somehow going to be influencing their decision in a bad way.
“Making them do things just because they want to please you. Or because you did it, they want to be like you. I was more worried about her playing tennis for the wrong reasons or doing it just because we liked tennis. So that’s one reason we didn’t go out of our way to schedule her stuff. She had to do it herself.
Garcia began working with Fuhr when she was eight and continues to this day. Garcia worked with Spain’s Davis Cup team and was an assistant coach for VCU’s men’s team for several years.
“She’s so gifted,” said Garcia. “As a coach, I rarely get to see players like that come along. She has today’s game. She’s a hard hitter. She’s aggressive. She takes charge. She makes things happen. In that sense, she has it all. For sure, she’s the most gifted girl I’ve ever taught.”
Fuhr has used those “gifts” to become one of the top junior players in the area. She’s been ranked in the top five (for singles) in the Mid-Atlantic section in every age group (12, 14, 16, 18) and has beaten some of the top juniors in the country along the way. She’s also considered the No. 2 girls recruit in the state for the Class of 2014.
For the past year, Fuhr has been hitting with Tatsiana Uvarova, a former All-American at VCU who teaches at Raintree Swim and Racquet Club.
“She’s very steady, aggressive,” said Uvarova, winner of the last two McDonald’s MATA women’s singles titles. “She reminds me a little of me. She sees the court pretty well. She knows how to use the strategies. I’m sure she’ll be successful [in college].”
Now 18, Fuhr began playing on the varsity team at Steward when she was in the sixth grade and was a member of the squad for five years (missing her sophomore and junior years because of the injury). She was the Spartans’ No. 1 singles and doubles player since the seventh grade.
In the two years she was eligible for post-season play (eighth and ninth grades), Fuhr was the League of Independent Schools (LIS) state singles and doubles champion. She added the Virginia Independent Schools (VIS) singles title to her resume both years.
Her career record at Steward for singles and doubles (including conference and non-conference matches) is approximately 111-6.
Since Steward is a small, private school, Fuhr hasn’t gotten to play a lot of the top public-school players in high-school competition. That has meant less recognition for her in the local newspaper, although she was named first-team All-Metro by the Richmond Times-Dispatch as a freshman. Fuhr has, however, battled some of the area’s top juniors in USTA tournaments, and during the past three years has lost only to Emily Hahn, who now plays for Princeton.
“I’m really ridiculously competitive when it comes down to it,” she said. “So it’s always been frustrating not being able to play in those big state tournaments, regional tournaments, all those things the big public schools like [Mills] Godwin get to do.
“But it’s a tradeoff. You go to Steward so you go to a smaller school. You can’t have it all.”
Fuhr tried not to let the wrist injury keep her off the court but it was a constant reminder that something was wrong in her left wrist. It turned out to be a torn extensor carpi ulnaris tendon, which was discovered by Dr. Berger.
Dr. Berger found that players with a power-laden baseline style, such as Fuhr, are especially vulnerable to these kind of injuries. He has performed operations on stars such as former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro and did the same with Fuhr.
What Dr. Berger did was repair the tendon and reconstruct the sheath that it lies in. He also removed a cyst on top of Fuhr’s wrist.
“Anybody else would have waited until full recovery,” said Garcia. “She used that as an opportunity to work on her slice backhand. She had to hit every single backhand with a slice. You can imagine how much better that slice backhand has gotten.
“We talk about it now. I say, ‘Anna, that injury, I know it was bad but out of all the bad it was, you got your backhand slice so much better. The backhand volley, too. She was always positive coming to practice, even when she couldn’t move her left arm.”
In addition to keeping up with her tennis game, Fuhr served as president of the junior and senior classes at Steward. She is a member of the National Honor Society and finishes high school with a grade-point average of 4.2.
“I love being busy and having things to do,” she said. “I’m pretty good at time management and being organized. So I was efficient when I was doing things. I wasn’t one of those people that played tennis for six hours a day. I worked out before school all through high school, so I would have more time after school. It worked out pretty well.”
Fuhr was also able to play on the team with her younger sisters, Laura (as a freshman) and Sarah (as a senior).
“That was the biggest reason I played this year, was to play with Sarah,” she said. “That was the highlight of my season. It’s probably the only time I’m going to play with her and that’s way more important to me than the competition.”
So Fuhr will be taking her game to another level in the fall, and Garcia is certain she’ll do well there too.
“I talked to the Emory coach,” said Garcia, “and said I would be very surprised if she does not climb up to the top spot. Maybe not the freshman year but sophomore or junior year, she should be at the top. She has all the tools. She will do really well in college.”