ACL: The injury that takes down champions
Suvam Pal

World and Olympic badminton champion Carolina Marin went under the knife on Tuesday for a bad knee injury while playing against her rival, India's Saina Nehwal, during the final of the Indonesia Masters last Sunday. Despite leading 10-4 in the opening game, Marin, grimaced in pain and  had to tearfully forfeit the match due to an anterior cruciate ligament tear, better known as a torn ACL. 

What is a torn ACL?

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, “The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four major ligaments that connect the bones of the knee joint. The ACL ligament plays a key role in holding the bones in proper alignment and help control the way one's knee moves. The ACL also provides stability to the knee and prevents excessive forward movement of the tibia (lower leg bone) in relation to the femur (thigh bone), apart from providing rotational stability to the knee.”

Carolina Marin of Spain reacts to an injury that forced her to retire while playing against Saina Nehwal of India in their women's singles final match at the 2019 Daihatsu Indonesia Masters tournament in Jakarta on January 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

Carolina Marin of Spain reacts to an injury that forced her to retire while playing against Saina Nehwal of India in their women's singles final match at the 2019 Daihatsu Indonesia Masters tournament in Jakarta on January 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

What causes a torn ACL?

A torn ACL can be divided into coming from contact and non-contact. An example of non-contact injuries is when an athlete rapidly decelerates, followed by a sharp or sudden change in direction. 

A non-contact ACL tear can be attributed to heavy or stiff-legged landing as well as twisting or turning the knee while landing, especially when one is in a knock-knee position. That exactly happened in Marin's case as the southpaw injured herself during her landing while executing an overhead forehand smash on the jump in the Indonesian capital. 

As far as contact injuries are concerned, it's the most common occurrence in body-contact sports like rugby, American football and soccer. It happens when a blow to the outside of the leg causing the knee to “buckle” and assume a valgus position. 

According to Dr. Benjamin Wedro, an emergency medicine practitioner from Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin, “Women have an increased risk of ACL injury because of differences in anatomy, muscle mass, and training.”

The curse of champions

The torn ACL, a common injury among many sportspeople, has interrupted the career of many flourishing and high-flying stars from the world of sports in the past.

Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. /VCG Photo

Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. /VCG Photo

Winter sports legend and Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn suffered a torn ACL at the World Championships in February 2013 and went on to tear it partially again nine months later. Although she made a speedy recovery and was back in action earlier than expected, she couldn't defend her downhill title at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. 

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods waits to tee off on the South Course during the final round of the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, California, U.S., January 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

Tiger Woods waits to tee off on the South Course during the final round of the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, California, U.S., January 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

Vonn's former beau and golf legend Woods also ruptured the ACL in his left knee while at home running after the 2007 British Open. At that time, he decided against surgery and subsequently went on to win five of his next six events. He eventually underwent a reconstructive surgery on the damaged ACL in 2008 and missed the remainder of the season. 

Aksel Lund Svindal

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Super G in Val Gardena, Italy, December 14, 2018. /VCG Photo 

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Super G in Val Gardena, Italy, December 14, 2018. /VCG Photo 

The Norwegian Alpine ski racer tore his ACL during a massive crash at Kitzbuehel in January 2016 but the multiple World Cup and Olympic gold medalist recovered after the injury lay-off and claim the downhill gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, becoming the oldest ever Alpine skiing gold medalist.

Alessandro Del Piero

Alessandro Del Piero of Sydney celebrates scoring a goal during the round one A-League match between Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia, October 11, 2013. /VCG Photo

Alessandro Del Piero of Sydney celebrates scoring a goal during the round one A-League match between Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia, October 11, 2013. /VCG Photo

The Italian superstar was one of the best known victims of a torn ACL in the world of soccer, as the iconic footballer suffered it in 1998, during the prime of his career. Although he lost some of his strength and agility, he still managed to help the Azzurri win the FIFA World Cup in 2006. 

Xavier Hernandez

Another iconic footballer and FIFA World Cup winner, Xavi tore his ACL during a challenge with a teammate in 2006 and was out for six months. However, he made an astonishing recovery to help both Spain and Barcelona win many memorable matches and tournaments for over more than a decade.

 Xavier Hernandez during the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifying match, France vs. Spain at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris, France, March 26, 2013. /VCG Photo

 Xavier Hernandez during the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifying match, France vs. Spain at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris, France, March 26, 2013. /VCG Photo

Cheteshwar Pujara

Cheteshwar Pujara of India holds up the Border–Gavaskar Trophy as he celebrates India's 2-1 series win after day five of the Fourth Test match in the series between Australia and India at Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia, January 7, 2019. /VCG Photo

Cheteshwar Pujara of India holds up the Border–Gavaskar Trophy as he celebrates India's 2-1 series win after day five of the Fourth Test match in the series between Australia and India at Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia, January 7, 2019. /VCG Photo

The Indian cricketer, who has been the backbone of the national team in test matches, ruptured the ACL in both of his knees – one in 2009 while playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders and the other in 2011 while playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore. His flourishing career as the mainstay of Indian middle-order came to an abrupt halt and it took him almost two years to back to the perch. He was recently adjudged the Player of the Series during India's historic first Test series victory in Australia.

But not everyone is as lucky as those mentioned in this list. For example, the injury ended a glorious career of tennis star Mary Pierce.