I may be seen as talking my own book here but I’m prompted to write this having watched some great tennis in a match between Fernando Verdasco and Alexander Zverev. Zverev, at 20, is the new kid on the block, just recently having broken into the world’s top ten. However, it was the greater experience of Verdasco that won the day in four sets. Despite having an overnight break at one set all, Zverev and his team were not able to adjust or come up with an alternative game plan. Despite Verdasco having a reputation of someone who can be mentally susceptible at times, it was Zverev who broke two rackets and was visibly rattled as he lost the last two sets.
It seems that the upper reaches of the men’s rankings are inhabited by old codgers currently. With Murray and Djokovic hitting 30 earlier this month the top five are now all over 30. While not present at Roland Garros, we have seen Roger Federer play sublime tennis this year, winning the his 18th slam in Australia and following up with Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells and Miami, all at the grand old age of 35.
Back at the end of 2003, the year Federer won his first slam, the top ten had one member over 30, Agassi, while other members of the top five included Roddick and Coria (both 21), Federer (22) and Juan Carlos Ferrero (23). The average age of the top ten was just over 24, as opposed to over 28 currently. Only two members of the current world’s top ten are under 25, Thiem at 23 and Zverev at 20. What is also remarkable at the moment is that half of the world’s top 50 are over 30.
It’s likely that only the old folks amongst you will remember teenagers like Becker, Wilander and Chang winning grand slams! So what’s happening? I think a number of factors are at play. One is that better understanding of sports science and the management of physiology, both in the management of injury and training for peak performance for specific events. With experienced players continuing to be able to compete physically with young guns later into their careers then that’s where greater experience comes into play. Of course the top players with plenty of prize winning and endorsement dollars pocketed are able to afford the entourages to better support their health and fitness as well.
Top players in their late twenties and beyond have played every style of opponent on every surface and faced most situations that they will ever encounter on a tennis court. Additionally, the best players go deeper into tournaments, getting more competitive court time against more opponents and, therefore, building their experience faster, so a top ten player will get significantly more court time against better opponents over the course of a year than a player ranked outside the top 50.
While most professional tennis players work on or are taught techniques to stay present from an early age, it’s always a challenge to do so in the heat of competition but having the experience of having faced most situations before helps develop the capability. Some players are undoubtedly better at it than others – Nadal is the master of both managing his own energy and manipulating that of his opponent, while Murray (currently world number one) is probably the most susceptible of the top five to allow himself to be disrupted.
In the working world I’ve tended to find that having experienced team members is important in getting projects and programmes delivered – so I am talking my own book!