written by Fabio Valente
As we all had the chance to witness, tennis has constantly evolved during the last decades into a more physical, tactical, intense, strong sport, requiring not only excellent playing skills but also a great body condition and increasing ability to generate power during endless, strenuous rallies. All those considerations would lead to the obvious conclusion that tennis, today more than in the past, needs young, well-trained players with a balanced and powerful style of play, who are able to sustain long efforts on court again and again. Top class athletes like Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios, Lucas Pouille, Alexander Zverev all belong to this category of players, representing the bright future of our sport. In spite of being all aged between 19 and 26, these fresh, talented, well-fit boys were able to win just 11 ATP titles combined since the start of 2016, 8 of them thanks to Kyrgios (4) and Thiem (4).
On the other side, an amount of 19 ATP titles went into the hands of over30 players ranked in the ATP top30 since the start of last season: even players like Ivo Karlovic (37 yo, 2 titles), Gilles Muller (33 yo, 1 title) and Philipp Kohlschreiber (33 yo, 1 title) added their names to the list of “veterans” still able to lift a trophy around the world, not to mention lower-ranked players like Estrella Burgos (36 yo), Verdasco (33 yo), Lorenzi (35 yo), all able to impress and win titles last year. Also, top of the league Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic (both 29 years old) scored together an amount of 17 titles in the last 13 months. Therefore, after Roger Federer’s surprising triumph at the AO and Stan Wawrinka (31 yo) being a serious title contender almost everywhere, a question easily comes to mind: why and how these “old” players manage to keep winning against the rising youngsters? Easy answer: because the veterans are on the rise too!
The first reason to explain this winning streak led by Federer and Wawrinka is the experience: being 35 year old and having played thousands of competitive matches can truly make the difference when facing a young, emotional player, less used to fight for a win in front of a chanting crowd. Moreover, experienced players had the chance to keep improving their skills during their long career while also adding new shots and strategies to their game, following the development of tennis and surfaces year after year. This ability to adapt has given those players a wider range of possible choices to be made during a match, in order to easily find the opponent’s weaknesses.
In the end, hard training and power are gaining more and more importance as winning keys in today’s tennis but still old-school, experienced players prevail on their younger rivals. Will the trend keep going? Maybe it will for the next 3-4 years, but it will stop as the new generations will come. The tennis world is witnessing a lack of competitive athletes born in the early 90s which explains why over30 players are still enjoying the best moments of their careers. Only Kei Nishikori and a few other names emerged from the mass of lost talents of their generation, but the future is starting to look bright for the next years: Zverev, Fritz, Coric, Chung, Tiafoe, Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Mmoh, Kozlov, Rublev, Tsitsipas, Auger-Aliassime, Medvedev, Bublik are only some examples of what we will see on the courts soon. Give those boys time and the next generation will make things right. Again.