Youth vs Experience in Modern Day Tennis
Professional tennis seems to be a bit of an enigma when compared to the rest of the sporting world. In the modern world, youth is the desired factor in many sports. The high transfer fees you see in football are for young talented players, whilst the older players go to less demanding leagues like the MLS or Japan. The average age of the top 10 ATP players on tour is 30 years old, and that’s just in singles. In doubles it is 33 years old. Now in sporting terms, although it may not seem it, that is actually quite old, especially when we are talking about the elite. So we have to ask, why is this, are tennis players just better than all other athletes, or are the youth of todays tennis game just not good enough?
Since the Open Era of tennis, there have only been 12 grand slam winners, male or female, aged 18 or under. Between 1974 and 1990 there were 9. Since 1990, only Martina Hingis in 1997, Serena Williams in 1999, and Maria Sharapova in 2004, have achieved winning a major aged under 19. Now there have been some other young grand slam winners in the last decade, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic, Naomi Osaka and Juan Martin del Potro were all 21, whilst Jelena Ostapenko was 20. The thought of a 21 year old winning a grand slam title, particularly on the Mens side seems absurd. The only real contender would be 21 year old Alexander Zverev, however his recent performances, one QF appearance and once into 4th round, wouldn’t provide much optimism. To put it in perspective, in the ATP top 400, there are only 3 players aged under 19, so the chance of seeing another Boris Becker or Michael Chang anytime seems very doubtful. Bit more chance on the women side, with 23 under 19’s in the WTA top 400, and 3 in the top 100.
If we look at the other side of the coin, there have been 29 Grand Slam titles won by Male players aged over 30 in the Open Era. 8 of those 29 titles have come in the last 2 years. On the Women’s side, there have been 28 Grand Slam titles won by players aged over 30 in the Open Era, with 12 of them coming in the last 6 years. Serena obviously greatly influences that stat, however, as mentioned with the men earlier, the top players are getting older with the average age of the WTA top 10 at 26 years old. If we look at the age in which female players have won their first ever Grand Slam title, 5 of the 10 oldest players have won their maiden title in the last 5 years.
It seems that the times are changing for tennis, and that experience is what is required to compete at the top level. With more investment into training, nutrition and tournament planning, the top players are able to compete for much longer. We are also in an age when arguably 4 of the greatest tennis players of all time, Nadal, Federer, Williams and Djokovic, are still playing well into there thirties. When thy eventually do decide to hang up their rackets, it could give some young guns the opportunity to fill their shoes.