The Aging Wimbledon Men’s Draw

Men’s tennis is getting older, and the drift toward middle age is evident at Wimbledon this week.

Of the 128 men in the main draw, 34 are at least 30 years old, while only two are in their teens.  This is just the latest step in a trend that has been evident for at least a decade.

The 34 30-somethings are not just a modern-day record–the number blows recent years out of the water.  Last year’s main draw had 24 30-somethings, and that was the highest such total since 1979.  Teenagers have been on the wane for years–there have only been two in the main draw in each of the last four years, but as recently as 2001, there were eight.  In several years in the late 80s and early 90s, there were more teenagers than 30-year-olds.

Whatever the explanation for this–and there are many possible ones–it’s clear that something is going on.  It takes longer than it ever has for a young rising star to establish himself on tour, and top players are able to stay healthy and competitive for as long as ever before.

After the jump, find a table with more detailed results.

The table shows several stats for each year’s Wimbledon main draw: average age of the competitors, number of 30-somethings, and number of teens.  “DOBs” indicates those years where I don’t have birthdate for all entrants; it isn’t really a factor except pre-1980.

YEAR  DOBs   AVG  30s  TEENS  
2012   128  27.3   34      2  
2011   128  26.9   24      2  
2010   128  26.5   20      2 
 
2009   128  26.5   19      2  
2008   128  25.9   18      5  
2007   128  26.2   19      7  
2006   128  26.0   17      4  
2005   128  25.8   23      8  
2004   128  25.7   20      4  
2003   128  25.4   14      5  
2002   128  25.5   15      4  
2001   128  25.6   18      8  
2000   128  25.6   13      6  

YEAR  DOBs   AVG  30s  TEENS  
1999   128  25.5   12      3  
1998   128  25.3   10      2  
1997   128  25.2    9      5  
1996   128  25.4   15      5  
1995   128  25.3   13      5  
1994   128  25.0    6      6  
1993   128  24.9   11      5  
1992   128  24.9    9      5  
1991   128  24.9    9      7  
1990   127  24.8   11     15  

YEAR  DOBs   AVG  30s  TEENS  
1989   128  24.6    9     13  
1988   128  24.2    8      9  
1987   128  24.6    8     10  
1986   128  24.9   16      7  
1985   126  25.4   16      6  
1984   126  25.3   16     12  
1983   126  25.1   14     11  
1982   127  25.6   18      8  
1981   125  26.0   19     10  
1980   127  26.3   23      5  

YEAR  DOBs   AVG  30s  TEENS  
1979   124  26.4   26      7  
1978   123  26.8   31      6  
1977   124  26.4   27      6  
1976   124  26.6   28      3  
1975   122  26.7   26      5  
1974   124  26.5   30      7  
1973    95  25.3   16     15  
1972   116  26.6   27      7  
1971   122  26.8   27      8  
1970   115  26.2   20      9  
1969   116  27.0   28      6  
1968   114  26.8   29      4
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2 Comments

Filed under Research, Wimbledon

2 responses to “The Aging Wimbledon Men’s Draw

  1. Jeff – Many thanks for gathering this together (note: this took Jeff less than an hour to post from inception of the idea at my request – this is amazing responsiveness, unique in sports stats as far as I know).
    In response to my question about what we frequently hear – of there being some age (usually said to be 26) at which players peak before their decline starts – I think you accurately framed the issue as being two part:
    – declining skills vs declining health
    I’m sure others will be as interested as I am in anything you can develop from data that sheds further light on whether players are now more able to postpone the age at which health declines. There are factors arguing both for and against that being logical today.
    But as you point out, skills probably keep improving even after health and fitness decline.
    I think FEDERER is a great case in point:
    - in 2009, at 26, he had some back issues and we began to see him shank a lot balls in matches; it appeared he had lost a step and some control with it, and his results began to be a little more human (some losses to low ranked players, and a lesser ability to take the big matches in 5 set formats)
    - in 2010, after more than a year of questions and doubts about his fitness and his mentality, he began to play consistent tennis again, and has continued since then; however, though he stabilized his back issues and never regained his previous foot speed for horizontal movement (at least on hard courts), his racquet skills and tactics adapted to allow him to be more effective than ever at ending points quickly with better serving, forward movement and defensive racquet skills. The first two of these improvements have been documented by statistics for his percentage of serving points won (1st and 2nd serves), total service games won, and the frequency and efficiency of points won from the net.

    Thanks, Jeff, for being such a great resource.

    Rick Devereux

  2. This is first time I have visited this site, and must say it is of high quality and appreciate it very much.

    Now I would like to say my opinion about the age of high quality tennis professionals.
    On one it is obvious that tennis has developed enourmously so it takes more and more years of hard quality work to become part of elite.On the other hand all the other supportive elements (physical conditioning, sport medecine, recovery technique, nutrtion etc.)have develop to such level to enable top players to stay healthy and major injury free for long time.

    Here I would like to mention two prerequisites for someone to be able to play high level tennis after 30iest.

    One is to be able as fast as younger players (if one does not reach a ball on time, tennis technique/tactics does not matter much) and ,

    two:all the players who are successful at this age have had sound base to build upon otherwise would not be able to keep up with development of sport.

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