Laser Procedure Offers Assist at 2007 Open

Rafael Nadal

Jim McIsaac/Getty

Suffering from tendinitis in his right knee, Rafael Nadal got an assist from a laser procedure to prepare him for his opening round at the U.S. Open.
Howard Fendrich, Associated Press


NEW YORK--Just as he has done a couple of times a day, every day, during the U.S. Open, Rafael Nadal showed up Friday morning at a midtown Manhattan hotel room to meet with the man with the laser.  
Panicked by the pain in his left knee, Nadal turned to Pier Francesco Parra, an Italian surgeon who has used his laser treatments to cure what ails dozens of tennis stars, soccer players and Olympic skiing champion Alberto Tomba.  
"It's like doing arthroscopic surgery, but without cutting the skin," Parra said.  
Then, with a smile, he noted: "And it takes 23 seconds."  
Seeded No. 2 at the Open, Nadal first sought out Parra on Monday after injuring his knee in a practice session Sunday. Nadal kept going back for more, including several hours before he was to play his second-round match Friday night.  
With a white baseball cap on his head and black glasses at the end of his nose, Parra looks like he might be simply a spectator. The official tournament credential around his neck is thanks to his status as a doctor for the Italian tennis federation.  
Parra travels the world with his portable laser machine--about the size of a small TV--and players line up wherever he's staying for a chance to see him.  
Lasers have long been used in surgery, but Parra uses his to help heal or prevent muscle, ligament or tendon problems. He points a more diffused beam at the skin in the area of the injury.  
He pegged his success rate at 95 percent to 97 percent.  
"It's happened that sometimes it doesn't work, of course," Parra said.
He's been doing these types of procedures since 1988, back when Tomba was at the top of the skiing world. Parra worked for three years with the Juventus soccer club--the New York Yankees of Italy--but these days only takes tennis clients.  
Parra has helped out an illustrious list of players, including two-time Grand Slam singles champion Amelie Mauresmo, major finalists Ana Ivanovic and Elena Dementieva, and other top players such as Novak Djokovic, Ivan Ljubicic and Jonas Bjorkman.  
And does it really work?  
Nadal said he feared he would have to withdraw from the U.S. Open before he began to feel better after Monday's first dose.  
And then he thanked Parra by name after winning in the first round.