Something has
changed at Wimbledon. Ten years ago, the
average age of the men who reached the second week of
the tournament in the singles was 26-years old. This year, it’s past 30
for the first time ever. Thirteen years ago Roger
Federer and Rafael Nadal first played in a
Wimbledon final. This year they meet again
in the semis, both of them well into their ’30s. In the chart here we
explore how the average age of men reaching
the latter stages has steadily increased
over recent years. Across the chart we have
years, and vertically we have the distribution
of all the players’ ages who reached the last
16, the fourth round. So you can see that
in 2019, for example, Ugo Hubert, the Frenchman,
is the youngest player who reach the last 16, aged 21,
while Roger Federer himself, at around 38, was the oldest. The full range of that bar
represents the full range of ages reaching
the fourth round. As you look towards the middle
you see that average standing out. We can then draw a line
cutting through all of those annual
distributions which shows how the average age has progressed. For around 30 years
the average age fluctuated between around 24 and
28, but over the last 15 years there’s been a steady
and perpetual increase. In the 70s and 80s, teenagers
and young teenagers at that, regularly reach the last
16 of the men’s singles. Bjorn Borg, the
Swede, who went on to win several major titles,
Boris Becker and Michael Chang were among the most
obvious examples. In the last few years a
teenager in the last 16 has become a more
rare occurrence. At the same time the number
of players in their 30s has gone up and up and up. This year, of the 16 players
to reach the fourth round, only two were aged under
28, and the majority were aged 30 or higher. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer
as well as Novak Djokovic have all reached the
semi-finals this year. The three will compete over
the next couple of days to determine who wins
the Wimbledon men’s title this year. For any of them it would be
yet another major victory. So when these players
go head to head what happens when
the pressure’s on? The most pivotal points in a
tennis match are breakpoints. – the opportunities for a
player to win a game against serve while their
opponent is serving. This chart here looks
at who are the best performers of all time on these
crucial points in men’s tennis. The horizontal axis
here shows the ratio of the percentage
of break points that a player converts
against her opponent serve, versus the
percentage of break points that they lose on
their own serve. The higher the number the better
these players perform attacking and defending these
crucial points. Rafael Nadal is the standout. Of all men’s players
in the entire open era going right back to the 1960s,
Rafael Nadal is about 33 per cent more likely to win or
to defend these crucial break points than the average player. Novak Djokovic comes second,
but there’s a big gap there. Nadal really is the coolest
head under pressure on the tour. Sampras, Federer and Agassi
are the greats for behind that, but this really is a case
of Nadal being the man. Andy Murray has won
several major tournaments and is undoubtedly one of
the outstanding players of the last few decades,
but his performance on these crucial
break-point opportunities and break-point
defences is actually much lower down the
rankings than some of the other top players of
his generation and generations before. Now this doesn’t
mean, of course, that the likes of
Murray and Becker fail to win tennis matches. Winning break points is
only one part of the story. If you simply win far more
points than your opponent over the course of
the entire match you’ll rack up far more
break-point opportunities than them. And so even if you don’t convert
them in a super-high rate, you’re still going to win. But what this does show is
that for every break-point opportunity forced, Rafael
Nadal is much more clinical in converting them than
the likes of Andy Murray. Moving onto the women’s
side of the game, the big story at
Wimbledon in 2019 was the emergence of
teenage star Cori Gauff. The 15-year-old American
reached the second week of the tournament, the fourth
round, aged just over 15. That makes her the fourth
youngest women’s player ever to achieve this feat
since Wimbledon has been running in the Open era. Here we’re looking
at the age at which every one of the
272 women’s players to have reached the second
round achieved that landmark. Gauff is highlighted
in red, and she appears far towards
the left, which means she is very young across
the grand scheme of things for players to
reach the last 16. And aged just over
15, she was actually the fourth youngest player
ever to achieve this landmark. Jennifer Capriati, Andrea
Jaeger and the great Steffi Graf were the only three to achieve
this mark at a younger age. Capriati and Graf went on
to win multiple grand slams, and Andrea Jaeger
reached several finals before her career was
cut short with injuries. So Gauff is certainly among
elevated company here. If we look slightly
further to the right, we see other familiar
names, stars of the game. Monica Seles, Martina
Hingis, Sharapova, and then further across
we have Chris Evert, and of course, Serena
Williams herself. All of these players reached
the second week in their teams, but were considerably
older than Gauff this year. Whether or not
Cori Gauff goes on to win major tournaments
like the players around her by this measure
remains to be seen, but the future certainly looks
bright for the young American. In the women’s game,
Serena Williams has been the dominant force
for more than a decade now. But aside from her, the
dearth of huge dominant forces has created space for youngsters
such as Gauff to come through. The men’s game has had
more dominant players for a very long time
now, and it’s not until the likes of Federer,
Nadal, and Djokovic move on that we’ll actually see
opportunities for youngsters to come through.

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Dennis Veasley

8 thoughts on “Net benefits: why Wimbledon’s tennis stars are getting older ⁠— and younger”

  1. Stop trying to squeeze in Murray in these statistics involving Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. The "big 3" is a thing, the "big 4" is not. Murray does not come close to them. If you were to include Murray, you should include Stan too. They have won the same number of Grand Slams

  2. Tennis isn't a cool sport, I'm bored just by watching the stats, kids would rather play something else, hence football.

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