Originally published on 26/11/15
Turner has been the Lawn Tennis Association’s doctor since 1994. His first Davis Cup tie was against Zimbabwe at Crystal Palace in 1997. With his dry sense of humour, it is easy to see how he fits in so well with the team of young players.
The Doc takes all the dressing room banter in his stride. “Because of my enormous age the team are always asking me things like: ‘How did Fred Perry cope with being in the final? Did he have any medical problems?’ I’m inclined to say that I was not physically there when Fred Perry was playing but they don't believe me. They think that I was still the doctor in those dark days.”
Shortly after qualifying Turner became the first doctor for the British skiing team. The job – ideal for someone who was himself a decent skier – began as a one-year trial and turned into a 25-year posting. He relinquished the post in 2000. During his time he attended three Olympic Games. At Calgary in 1988 he was the doctor for Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards.
Turner combined his own occupational health practice with his work in sport. An invitation to conduct a review into medical cover in horse racing in the early 1990s resulted in another long-term arrangement when he became the chief medical adviser to the British Horseracing Association (BHA). It was a three-day-a-week job.
Writing in the Telegraph on Turner’s departure from the BHA in 2013, jockey Tony McCoy said: ““When Turner started, it had not been long since the role of racecourse doctor was virtually honorary and seen as a good job and a free lunch for a retired GP. Now there are nearly 250 fully-trained racecourse medical officers who are retrained every three years.”
Turner recently set up the National Concussive Head Injury Centre in London. He will continue to work on this research project alongside his duties at the LTA.
In his role as The Doc for British tennis and for the Davis Cup team, (the two roles are separate) Turner says he originally wrote his own job description. He is now tasked with looking after the wider Davis Cup team, including the administrators. “If there’s an injury of any kind you want it resolved quickly. I’m the one who would take them to hospital, get an MRI and the results. The rest of the team will carry on. My job is to deal with anyone who has become a lame duck due to an injury of any kind and deal with them.”
In many of the ties where he has been involved there is often an injury to deal with. For instance in the semi-final against Australia in Glasgow this year Kyle Edmund rolled his ankle. It was The Doc who was tasked with assessing the injury and telling the captain whether he thought he would be able to train. Ultimately it will be the player in consultation with the captain who decides whether he plays or not. The Doc says he will always take the long-term view.
“So actually one Davis Cup more or less is of no interest to me whatsoever,” he said. “If they have an injury and then they play in a Davis Cup and rupture a hamstring or do something serious and they will never ever play again, then the injury is more important to me than playing. But with all athletes competition is often more important than the injury.”
He is acutely aware of the demands on a player who competes in both the singles and the doubles in a Davis Cup tie, as Andy Murray is set to do this weekend. “If you have a long five setter in the singles, the whole way the tournament was set up you were meant to have a rest day,” he said.
With more singles players being drafted in for the often-critical doubles rubber, there is often a player who does not get a rest.
“The players train very hard beforehand and then they have three matches in three days which is pretty unusual,” he said. “Even Grand Slam tournaments give you a day off in between matches.”
The Doc may be courtside with defibrillator and lots of other medical kit, but on practice days this week in Ghent he has taken on some other team responsibilities.
“I was applauded for organising the snooker evening,” he said. “The hall was dark and low lit and the boys loved it. With eight tables we had 16 people playing.”
He also had to go to a pharmacy to buy enough sterilising tablets for a 350-litre ice bath – “so it does not get urine and fungus-ridden,” he explained.
The Doc often acts as court sweeper for the team, which is a job he loves doing. “I am a bit obsessive/compulsive so I quite like it – a clay court is like heaven for me,” he said.
“I’d like to be able to sweep the clay court and the lines and of course it drives the coaches demented because normally it only happens at the change of a set, but I’d quite happily brush the players aside so that I could sweep the court and do the lines. I get extremely upset when they make a mess.”
When he tried to sweep the court during the tie in Italy in 2014 he got ticked off because the unionised court sweeper, who at the time was having a cigarette courtside, was not too keen to see the Doc taking his job. In Ghent he jokingly says he is training the security guards to help with the task.
In addition to the serious business of court-sweeping on the Tuesday before the tie began, the Doc had given a plaster to James Ward, who had a blister on his finger after practice, and a Nurofen to a coach with a headache. “I felt extremely useful and needed,” he joked.
The Doc was not too happy when the Duchess of Cambridge was temporarily dubbed DoC by the team. In the end “Doc” was reserved for him. “According to the team i have been The Doc since Doomsday. No one else is The Doc – since 1900 when the Davis Cup started and I have done all 108 ties since then.”