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Grand old men of tennis: There are zero Grand Slam Champions in 20s for first time

With Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro turning 30 last week, there are zero Grand Slam champions in their 20s for the first time.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt |
Updated: October 2, 2018 9:55:26 am
At 37 years, Roger Federer is the oldest active Grand Slam winner while Marin Cilic is the youngest at 30 years and three days.

Sport science

For the first time in the Open Era, the last nine Grand Slams have been won by players at least 31 years of age; a far cry from the days of Andre Agassi when the American was hailed as a visionary for winning two majors after turning 30 and playing till 36. While Agassi did start the tradition of hiring full-time conditioning coach, players like Novak Djokovic have taken it to a different level. The Serb has an armada of support staff including a physio, conditioning coach and an analyst, and use hyperbaric and cryo chambers for recovery. Analyst Craig O’Shannessy, who has worked with Djokovic, said in an interview: “The sport science behind it, the nutrition, the recovery and just the work on the body – back 30 years ago, no one had a physio with them on tour… when you have a guy like Roger that every single day his body is getting taken care of, his body is getting worked on, it literally slows the ageing process.”


Technology has helped players track their progress, with wearable equipment monitoring their performance. The diets have changed and so have the training sessions, with more focus on movement and flexibility. While Federer credits his core strength and flexibility to Pilates, former Djokovic coach Todd Martin says the Serb starts his days with a splits. “Novak wakes up, and it’s like before he has his orange juice in the morning, he puts his leg on top of (longtime therapist) Miljan’s shoulder and they basically hug,” Martin told the New York Times. “He stretches the hamstring before he does anything, and I’m telling you, he does it dead cold.”

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The technology has also transformed the playing equipment. Larger racquets and synthetic strings have made it easier to whack a ball accurately and impart heavy topspin. While Pete Sampras and Agassi would produce around 1,800 ball revolutions per minute, Federer took it to 2,500. Nadal’s average is 3,200 and could go as high as 4,000. While the change has benefitted all, resulting shift from the net to the baseline has especially helped the older players to use their experience to construct points. scheduling and prize money

The top players have all battled injuries, but it could have been worse if not for smarter scheduling. Federer has skipped the clay season for the last three years, and Nadal has reduced the number of hardcourt appearances. “…if I wanted to try hard to stay on tour for a few more years, I could not play the same busy schedule that I did years back,” said Federer. Djokovic also took a lengthy time-off before mounting a comeback. Picking and choosing events has also become easier with the ever-increasing prize money. The total amount rationed for male players has gone from from £104 million in 2008 to £220 million this year. The financial security is thus another reason why the journeymen hang on well into their thirties.

Rule changes

Also in 2008, the ATP reduced Masters events to three-set affairs and introduced first-round byes for the top eight seeds. The governing body has also facilitated better medical support at the tournaments.

Beautiful anomaly

Perhaps, the trend could be chalked up to the freakish longevity of a handful of stars with overlapping careers who have swooped up the last 55 Grand Slams! After all, while a 37-year-old Serena Williams takes the average up on the opposite side, women’s tennis has more first-time winners in Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Sloane Stephens and a couple of bona fide breakthroughs in Jelena Ostapenko and Naomi Osaka. The fabulous five (or sinister seven) led by Federer are already showing cracks and signs of a decline. (In the top fifty last year, there were 24 players 30 or above and only four 22 or below; the numbers today are 20 and 10.) With their exit, perhaps the lost generation can rule the yard.

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