Roger Federer, Mardy Fish and the Aging of the Game: A Good or a Bad Thing?

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Roger Federer, Mardy Fish and the Aging of the Game: A Good or a Bad Thing?
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The average age of the eight players who qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals in London is 26.6.

The average age of the eight players who qualified for the WTA Championships in Istanbul was 24.1.

The top 20 male players in the world have been in this world for an average of 26.2 years.

The top 20 girls in the WTA ranking average 24.9 years of age.

Among the top 100 male players in the world there are only two teenagers: Bernard Tomic and Ryan Harrison, both 19 years old.

By putting all this data in perspective, one can only assume that the odds of what players like Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Tracy Austin, Martina Hingis and Serena Williams did is very unlikely to be repeated. They all won major titles as teenagers.

The last two players to win a major under the age of 20 were Maria Sharapova, who won Wimbledon in 2004 at the age of 17, and Rafael Nadal, who won the French Open at the age of 18, in 2005.

There are two interesting angles to approach this subject: the first would be to try and understand why this is happening; secondly, there is the need to evaluate whether or not this is good for the game of tennis.

The most important reason for the aging in the game is how physical it has become in recent years. The way matches are played these days is unbelievably demanding on the players’ bodies, which like their minds, need time to mature.

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It is very tough, if not nearly impossible, for a young man or woman who hasn’t reached the age of 20 yet to support the long physical battles in which the rule is to pound the ball as hard as possible and cover parts of the court that were once considered impossible.

Regardless how many hours of gym work are put in, the body will not be ready. It is a battle lost against nature.

The professionalism with which the players face their job is another issue. The routine of practice and the abdication of the “regular” lifestyle can be brutal.

Top players these days have what is called a “team”: an entourage composed of coaches, fitness coaches, physical trainers, nutritionists, etc, which can be too much for a teenager to take and afford.

Ultimately this is positive for the sport. Although it sounds awesome, it may not be a good thing for a young man or woman to reach financial independence and world recognition before most people haven’t yet graduated from high school and figured out what they are going to do with their lives.

As paradoxical as it may look, this could mess with their heads and their lives. A teenager has not matured yet in order to learn how to deal and cope with the consequences of this kind of success. There are plenty of examples of this in tennis and other sports.

Moreover, the aging of the game gives a different perspective for players in the intermediate-to-lower blocks of the rankings. These represent the majority and are the ones who truly know the tough and dark side of the circuit.

Is the ageing factor a good thing for tennis?

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Someone who hasn’t broken through the top 100 at the age of 24, for instance, can still hope and believe that he or she can make it if they keep trying and putting the extra yards necessary to do so. They don’t need to feel discouraged and think that their careers are over when most people are still graduating from college.

And finally, the aging factor can also be a great thing for the fans. After all, who doesn’t appreciate long careers of great players like Roger Federer and Andre Agassi?

Bjorn Borg left us hanging when he retired at 26 years of age. Wouldn't fans have appreciated seeing the great Swede longer in action?

How tough is it not to feel touched by Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur winning their first majors close to their 30s?

Who doesn’t appreciate Mardy Fish making the huge effort—including weight loss—to reach the prime of his career at age 29?

At the end of the day, it is all about justice being done and life rewarding those who don’t ever give up and keep striving to be the best they can be. And it is only fair that things work this way.

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