American Mardy Fish has just made his debut into the top ten. In January, Austrian Jurgen Melzer did the same and now rests at No. 8. What do these two players have in common?
Two things—one is that they are both born in the same year as Roger Federer, that being 1981. The other thing is that both of them made it to the all-time top ten ranking of oldest players to debut in the top ten. In fact, soon-to-be 30-years-old Melzer made it to the second spot and Fish reached the No. 4.
Now why is this relevant?
It’s relevant because we here have two players who have had their supposed prime years in exactly the same years as Federer, yet failed to make it to the top ten back when they were supposed to be at their best, say at 22-26. They only make the top ten now, at the old tennis age of 29, where many deem Federer way past his prime and pretty much a thing of the past.
Again, why is this relevant? Well, first and foremost because there is a notion among many a fan that Federer only got as many titles as he got, because he took advantage of a weak era. Now if both Fish and Melzer fail to make the top ten in a supposedly weak era, but manage to do it in the supposedly very strong present era, does that seem entirely logical to you?
David Ferrer is another 29-year-old who is enjoying his second youth in the present era. He rests at No. 6 in the rankings which is just two places short of his career-high at No. 4, which he reached in 2008.
If we go to the somewhat younger guys, Robin Söderling, 26, and Nicholas Almagro, 25, it is also interesting to note that these two players seem to be having their best ranking time now, rather than say already from 2007-2008 for Söderling. Almagro, admittedly, was almost as high a couple of years back, but he is also on the verge of a debut into the top ten.
World No. 14 and soon to be 29-years-old Mikhail Youhzny, is yet another player who has enjoyed his greatest ranking results rather late in life. His best years ranking-wise have been from 2008 to the present, No. 8 being the highest (2008 and 2010).
World No. 9 and 27-year-old Fernando Verdasco made his breakthrough into the top twenty in the summer of 2008 at age 24. He reached a career-high world No. 7 last fall just before turning 27.
What can we make of this? Well, quite a few players who were old enough to do so, failed to make much noise in the 2004-2007 years of Federer’s domination. Instead, they have managed to carve out a spot for themselves from 2008 or later (Melzer and Fish just this year)—the years some refer to as the Nadal era.
That looks slightly odd to me, given this is supposedly the by-far stronger era.
Nevertheless, it should also give hope to the Federer fans. After all, when other 29-year-old oldies can make their debut into the top ten, is there any reason why Federer cannot reassert himself at the top spot?
Well, one obvious difference between these players and Federer is their respective mileage. By being so good for so many years, Federer has played far more matches than his contemporaries. Another argument against are the two players on top of the ranking right now, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Nevertheless, before making all these claims about weak eras or not (something I personally believe is impossible to measure in any objective sense), one might consider the amount of players able to make it in this era who could not make it in the previous.
Oh, did I forget to mention Tomas Berdych? He broke into the top ten last summer, just two months short of turning 25.