Bethesda resident Reshma Rathod had just one simple request for Mother's Day this year.
“The last time I played tennis was Mother's Day. It's what I wanted, to play tennis with my daughters [who are 8 and 10],” Rathod said.
Rathod played tennis for four years at Parkdale High School in Prince George's County in the late 1980s. She rarely has time to sharpen her court skills these days, but she is involved in the sport now more than ever.
A Primary Health Care Provider for the Women's Tennis Association since 2007, it's Rathod's job to ensure the world's top women's professional tennis players stay physically fit and able to perform at the level necessary to compete at an elite level. She's worked with this year's French Open champion and former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova, current top-ranked player and reigning Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and last year's No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.
“Playing tennis growing up I'm able to understand the movement and patterns of the game, although I do think tennis is always changing,” Rathod said. “But I know the actual game and the requirements and I'm able to break down the components and implement them into [the players'] care. In the past I treated Martina Navratilova and I'd always watched her on TV. She needed my assistance and I helped and then all of a sudden we're on a first-name basis. One year I treated John McEnroe ...You're kind of in awe but then being able to relate to these players, they're people and they really need and appreciate your help.”
Rathod said she travels to about eight tournaments worldwide each year — she splits her time between that and her own physical therapy practice in Rockville, Restore Motion, which she co-founded with partner Miriam Graham.
Rathod was at this year's Australian Open in January and has traveled to Spain and California in the past six months.
But her most recent stop, the Citi Open held July 28 through Thursday at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Washington, D.C., brings her full circle.
It was in 2001 when Rathod made her first foray into professional tennis. Her supervisor at the National Rehab Hospital had done some work with ATP Tour and enlisted her help at that summer's Legg Mason Tennis Classic (now the Citi Open).
This is the second year the WTA has held an international women's tournament in the area but the first in conjunction with the ATP event.
Rathod has been working the D.C. tournament for more than 10 years. That initial introduction to professional tennis led her to the WTA.
Rathod said she is one of about 15 WTA primary health providers throughout the world.
They are responsible for the players' well-being, she said, from nutrition to psychology, exercise program and injury prevention to injury rehabilitation.
Her specialty is women's health, a particular issue that can often be overlooked.
“More and more women are playing tennis longer and going through many different life changes, for example child birth and then going on to win the U.S. Open [which Belgian Kim Clijsters did in 2005],” Rathod said. “That can cause issues with pelvic floor weakness and balance and that can affect the hip. Then it's about working on the kinetic chain. When I first came to the Tour I would do certain techniques on the muscles from the hips that had not been addressed or had been addressed in a different way and the players would be like, 'Whoa, I've never had this done before.' [We just want] the players to be able to use the WTA as a resource.”
Rathod is just as dedicated to Montgomery County's rising stars. Her practice works with athletes of all sports but specializes in tennis.
Rathod said she is able to translate what she does with the professional players to aspiring young athletes looking for college scholarships or professional sporting careers.
She does similar work at Restore Motion: personalized exercise programs, injury prevention and rehabilitation.
Rathod also runs a student program with internships and observation hours for those interested in the physical therapy field.
An avid tennis player and fan, Rathod doesn't often get to hit forehands and backhands of her own, but the work she does helps keep some of the world's best strokes intact.
“It's very rewarding if someone had an injury and then wins her next match. You're thinking, 'Oh, I had an effect on them. I had an impact.' Or, 'Wow, she listened to me,'” Rathod said.