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Most Top Male Players Are in Their 20s Now

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Most Top Male Players Are in Their 20s Now Empty Most Top Male Players Are in Their 20s Now

Post by Henman Bill Mon 01 Apr 2024, 11:12 am

If you look back at the 60s/70s/80s/90s my recollection of it is that most top male players peaked around 20-26. Most slam winners, and certainly most first time slam winners, were around that age, and many were into decline or at least being heavily beaten by their younger major rival by the time they were about 30. Players like Sampras, and later Roddick, were not that far into their 30s when they actually retired.

However things seemed to change, and there was a period when older players 30+ were doing well, not just Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and perhaps Murray as well, but also Ferrer, Wawrinka and others.

I double checked the end of 2017 - which was my quick guess for a time when I recall 30+ players doing well - (you can select date at https://www.atptour.com/en/rankings/singles) and I see 3 top 10 players 30+, and 10 top 20 players being 30+ (including all from 11 to 17), 13 in top 30, and 19 in top 40.

This seemed at the time to be higher than the long-term average, but at the time it felt to me that it might be a permanent shift owing to improved nutrition, recovery from injury due to better treatments, better physios, better drugs (both legal and illegal). But there might also have been some cultural changes.

I was having a look at the rankings this morning and I noticed that most top players are in their 20s.

Grigor Dimitrov has just entered the top 10 and becomes the 2nd player 30+ in the top 10

Mannarino makes only 3 30+ in the top 20 (so 17 20s and no teenagers), only  4 in the top 30, in fact only 4 in the top 40 (compared to 19 in 2017!). At a quick glance the number of 30+ players from 41-100 is also lower than in 2017, although I didn't count them up.

The theory of improved nutrition and better doctors etc for players in their 30s doesn't seem to work now that players in their 30s are no longer having success today but presumably have access to the same things for fitness and recovery.

It now looks that the many players in the top 40 in their 30s in 2017 was now an unusual moment in history rather than a new normal.

Aside from the inevitable random fluctuation of data (which may even be the main reason), I'm not sure what is going on here.

You could argue that 2017 had an exceptional big four, and that they inspired others like Wawrinka and Ferrer and others to keep playing well into their 30s. Although that doesn't seem to fully explain all the difference but is probably part of it.

Maybe some early 30s players were affected by COVID or retired when they could have kept going a bit longer if it wasn't for that (not sure about this one to be honest).

You could argue that high prize money in 2017 led players to want to keep working hard and trying to cash it in, or you could try and argue that high prize money today means top 40 players are so well off by 30 they don't need to try that hard and play that many tournaments unless they truly love the game (another argument that I'm less convinced about).

It could be that doing illegal drugs is harder than it used to be (there seem to less scandals these days in sport in last few years?) or culture has changed against it, maybe some of the 30+ aged players in top 40 in 2017 used some form of illegal drug to keep going. (I don't buy this however, because drugs could have been used equally by 20s players and I'm not convinced that the testing has ever been any good, even today.)

The current ranking list does start to make the second half of the big 4 plus Stan's careers look even more impressive than we thought at the time.

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Post by sirfredperry Mon 01 Apr 2024, 11:32 am

HB - Very interesting topic. I was noticing last year that the top 10 was the youngest for some time.

It could be, as you say, that the domination of the 30+ guys in the last decade was a bit of a one-off in that you had three of the greatest of all time still strutting their stuff.

Or did we have just a similarly unique period when the young players were just not good enough? There was an amazing period between around 2008 and 2016-17 when not a single teenager even reached a men's final let alone won a tourney.

Would the oldies domination have been so great if, say, the likes of Alcaraz and Sinner had been around a decade earlier?

But the guys of more advanced years can at least take heart from Dimitrov's efforts of late which have seen the 32-year-old (indeed 33 next month) return to the top 10 for the first time since 2018. ( a 260-week gap I've been told)

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Post by No name Bertie Mon 01 Apr 2024, 9:10 pm

Henman Bill wrote:... many players in the top 40 in their 30s in 2017 was ... an unusual moment in history rather than a new normal...

You could argue that 2017 had an exceptional big four, and that they inspired others like Wawrinka and Ferrer and others to keep playing well into their 30s. Although that doesn't seem to fully explain all the difference but is probably part of it....
Given the dominance of the top four sweeping up all the major titles those a few years behind them would have had a sense of an unfulfilled career. That sense of disappointment would have kept them going longer in the hope that as those ahead aged, began to falter, developed injuries, they would be in a position to get a major title or two.

In child development there are various stages that have to be met and satisfied before the developing child is able to fully progress in the psychological sense to the next stage of development. This is a theory that has good explanatory power.
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Post by Soul Requiem Tue 02 Apr 2024, 10:11 am

No name Bertie wrote:
Henman Bill wrote:... many players in the top 40 in their 30s in 2017 was ... an unusual moment in history rather than a new normal...

You could argue that 2017 had an exceptional big four, and that they inspired others like Wawrinka and Ferrer and others to keep playing well into their 30s. Although that doesn't seem to fully explain all the difference but is probably part of it....
Given the dominance of the top four sweeping up all the major titles those a few years behind them would have had a sense of an unfulfilled career.   That sense of disappointment would have kept them going longer in the hope that as those ahead aged, began to falter, developed injuries, they would be in a position to get a major title or two.  

In child development there are various stages that have to be met and satisfied before the developing child is able to fully progress in the psychological sense to the next stage of development.  This is a theory that has good explanatory power.

Huh?

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Post by dummy_half Wed 03 Apr 2024, 12:17 pm

Not only are most of the top 20 under 30, most of them are in their early to mid 20s - only Medvedev is really getting close to 30, most of the others are 26 or younger. I think there are two elements at play:
1 - a lot of the players now 28 to mid 30s have been broken by having to play against prime era Djokovc, Nadal, Federer and to a lesser extent Murray and Wawrinka. The guys reaching to top now only got the end of Fed's career (if that), Murray after his hip went and a more injury-prone Nadal, so have been able to get further in tournaments generally. Add in that Djokovic may be starting to show signs of decline and you have a very obvious changing of the guard

2 - They were possibly a bit of a weaker cohort anyway compared with the group now in their late 30s and the group in their mid 20s.

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