The impossible era of tennis: of the four greatest tennis players in history, three are active
The top five at the moment are all over 30 years old, including Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal. The two tennis players with the most titles in history keep accumulating trophies by their thirties. Rafael Nadal won yesterday Roland Garros at 31; Roger Federer did the same in Australia at 36. The Spaniard has won 15 Grand Slam and the Swiss 18 titles, more than anyone since the Open Era began in 1968. Pete Sampras follows them with 14 titles and Novak Djokovic with 12. A fantastic milestone is hidden there: three of the four largest are active. Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. Three voracious tennis players coincide in time and remain.
Many people wonder what pallbearers Federer or Nadal would have had the other not existed. How many titles would the Swiss have if the Spaniard had not reigned in Roland Garros? How many would Djokovic have without the other two? But it can be argued quite the opposite, that it was this brutal and senseless competition that brought the statistics of the three to absurdity. Perhaps Federer would have withered earlier if he did not have before him rivals who, in addition to the present, disputed history.
In the shadow of these three players hardly grows anything. It can be seen in this other graph: Nadal has been monopolizing Roland Garros for 13 years, leaving only three titles for everyone else. Crumb.
Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic are over 30 years old. Their survival produces another unusual event: for a week now, the top five tennis players in the world are more than 30 decades old. There is No precedent at all Was Open. There were times with three cases —Federer, Wawrinka, and Berdych in 2015; Federer, Wawrinka, and Nadal in 2016; and Newcombe, Okker, and Laver in 1974— but never the top five had been 30 years old.
The record has come foraging. A month ago, there were three top 5 tennis players over 30: Federer, Wawrinka, and Nadal. But on May 15, Murray joined them, and a week later, Djokovic. They both turned 30 this month.
This trend is no coincidence. The top 5 has been aging since 2011, and its average age has gone from around 25 to almost 32. The trend is not only due to the stubbornness of Federer, Nadal, and company. It is something general. It is also observed If we look at the top 100 of the ATP ranking. Its average age has been increasing since 2003 and has risen from 25 to 29 years. In 2016 there were 39 players over 30 in the top 100, out of 10 in 2003.
I can only speculate on the reasons for this transformation. Somehow a generation of tennis players is benefiting from age while mitigating its adverse effects. We know that it also happens with women —says Carl Bialik, and there’s Serena Williams, winning titles at 35. Tennis players are likely to have better physical preparation, and that will allow them to preserve their talent. Perhaps modern tennis has changed, or the functioning of the professional circuit provides incentives to continue competing. There may also be some chance in the lack of young stars. Today there are no players under 20 in the top 50. Nadal was the fifth in the world when he won his first Roland Garros at the age of 19.