Fitter at 30 +

We have just witnessed the final two hard court events before the clay court season begins. These tournaments have thrown up some surprising results and for me one thing kept coming up throughout the last two weeks in the USA; how much fitter the men are at 30+ than they were a couple of generations ago.

Roger Federer has had an amazing start to the season and leads the ATP race by a considerable way over fellow 30 something Rafael Nadal. Fed has shown just how important keeping your body in shape is late on your career. He has always been in great shape but he himself has admitted the need to up the regularity of his off court training in order to stay healthy. This is not just a unique thing to Federer with many other players showing their desire to stay as high as they can in the rankings when they reach their 30s.

And Now Some Stats

Below is the top 10 rankings as of this week with the age of each player. Straight off the bat for me this shows just how much depth there truly is in the men’s game.

Top 10 ATP

1. Andy Murray – 29
2. Novak Djokovic – 29
3. Stan Wawrinka – 32
4. Roger Federer – 35
5. Rafael Nadal – 30
6. Milos Raonic – 26
7. Kei Nishikori – 27
8. Marin Cilic – 28
9. Dominic Thiem – 23
10. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – 31

  • In 1992 the average age of the men’s top 10 was 23.2 years.
  • In 2002 it was 24.5 years.
  • In 2015 it’s 28.6 years.
  • As of this week the average is 28.9, it will be 29.2 when Murray and Djokovic reach 30 in May.

These numbers make for some intriguing reading and shows just how many players are still playing into their 30s and how the average of the elite players in the men’s game continues to go up. When the top two turn 30 that will be 6 of the top 10 men in their 30s (if the top 10 stays similar to above). The average also may go beyond 30 if Theim, the youngest of the top 10 drops out and is replaced by Monfils #11 or Berdych #13.

Why has the average age been rising?

There are many reasons you could look to as to why there has been this continual rise in age, but for me it comes down to three things; increased fitness, better injury prevention and experience of playing the game. Firstly a large amount can be contributed to an increased emphasis on fitness. The game over the past 10 years has become an extremely physical challenge for all the players, longer rallies, longer matches, more time spent on the unforgiving hard courts as well as many other aspects. Players have to be conditioned to cope with this amount of strain on the body for an entire season. The second aspect is very much linked to the first but has to be given a thought on its own and that is the amazing benefits of prehabilitaion and rehabilitation to help with injury prevention. As the grind of the tour goes from week to week it has become necessary to keep the body loose using a number of different joint mobility exercises, stretching and recovery methods before and after training/matches. The last thing I have discovered from watching the 30 year olds play recently is just how well they understand their game; the limitations of it and what has the most effect. The experience that comes with playing for a long period of time in such a high complex coordination sport like tennis is not to be underestimated. These player’s brains have a greater bank of knowledge unlike the younger players who very much play on instinct and this gives the experienced player almost an extra moment in time to plan for the outcome that they desire.

Will this tread continue?

The youngsters like Zverev and Kyrgios who are leading the way for the next generation players could change these stats and bring them back down again, by inspiring many other of their contemporises to achieve similar success. But this is easier said than done as the group of 30 somethings do not look like making way for these young guys….right now anyway. Federer is close to playing some of his best ever tennis, Nadal is also resurgent after a poor couple of years and Murray and Djokovic still have plenty miles left in their tanks. Then there is the group just below them who are getting closer to their 30s and one would think are only going to improve with experience, the likes of Raonic, Nishikori, Dimitrov and Goffin amongst others. I feel this tread is going to continue at least over the next couple years, until we see the retirements of the big 4, which doesn’t look anywhere near happening. Once this happens the late 20’s players will not be as dominant over the tour as the big 4 have been, which will give the younger players an opportunity to succeed higher up in the rankings…

The way the year has been shaping up it could be a very dynamic year to savour for the ATP tour with a fascinating mix of youth, late 20s aspirations and older experienced heads battling for every title. Don’t be surprised if we see the big 4 back to the top 4 in the ATP rankings.

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