The Tennis Age Shift

Young Andre
Young Andre
30 years ago we had teenage Grand Slam champions and most players retired by the time they were 30; but now “peak performance” has shifted almost a full decade. Why is that?

Junior Champions

Chrissie Evert made her Grand Slam tournament debut at the 1971 US Open at the age of 16; and in 1973 (18 years old) Evert was the runner-up at the French Open and the Wimbledon Tournament. A year later she won both those events.

Andre Agassi also turned professional at the age of 16 and competed in his first tournament at La Quinta, California. He won his first match against John Austin, but then lost his second match to Mats Wilander. By the end of the year, Agassi was ranked world no. 91

Early Outs

majors by 25Bjorn Borg enjoyed early success (see chart) and retired at the age of 26!
Ivan Lendl turned pro at age 18 and retired at age 34 – the same age Serena Williams is still winning Grand Slams.

And look at all the top pros who are not “maturing” until their mid 20’s and then competing at the highest levels well into their 30s.

Why Is That?

Sure some Americans like John Isner and Jack Sock took the time to complete college; but most of the other pros were still trying to earn a living on the tennis court in their late teens.

Much of the credit for longer careers can be attributed to the “team” that the top pros have around them, with physios, dieticians, etc.; plus the sophisticated stretching and training regimens they now utilize.

So that could help explain the “why longer careers” question … but I think it also helps explain the lack of teenage success. These “old pros” are hanging around and still beating the up-and-coming youngsters, who would have had more success if they weren’t around.

What do you think?

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4 thoughts on “The Tennis Age Shift

  1. Are you sure jack Sock went to college? Which one?

    Dave, sorry, you are right… thinking of Steve Johnson, who won something like 72 consecutive college matches. Thanks for the edit. george.

  2. Did Jack Sock really go to college? Thought he turned pro out of Nebraska high school.

    Tom, yup, see my comment to Dave. thanks.

  3. Two – when the money got bigger that paved the way for programs to be created for players to play longer in their career. Also, I think that we learned that in most cases asking a 15 or 16 year old child to compete at that high level is asking for #1 -burnout and #2 injury. I am actually glad to see players aren’t starting younger. It is something that always and still does worry me in Major League Baseball. Statistics bear out that a major league picture younger then 21 or 22 will have a shorter career. But again, money may take precedence.

    Larry, “child prodigy” often equals child burnout. thanks, george

  4. Agree with Larry in regards to burnout , injury etc.
    But I agree with biggest factor of new training and technology.
    The sciences and experimental protocols of experts in their respective fields that keep these guys going is at levels so much higher than 30 years ago it’s not even funny. It would make your eyes pop the kind of “recovery ” methods used. 30 years ago many players had a beer and cigarette after a Match 🙂
    Add to that new found better nutritional protocols , weight training, supplements and the list goes on.

    Just my 2 yen.

    Marc, and you can see the “lack of success” in some of the players who do not practice the new protocols. thanks, george

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