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Why is it so hard for a tennis player to play at their best post 30?

  • Tennis is the toughest sport, simple.

    Votes: 20 13.2%
  • It's because tennis is tougher on the body than the other sports.

    Votes: 45 29.6%
  • Because tennis has a lower doping rate than the other sports.

    Votes: 4 2.6%
  • Reaction time is what tennis players lose more than the other athletes

    Votes: 50 32.9%
  • Because tennis players make more money so lose motivation

    Votes: 2 1.3%
  • It's not true, tennis players last as long as any other sportsmam

    Votes: 24 15.8%
  • It remains a mystery

    Votes: 7 4.6%

  • Total voters
    152
81 - 87 of 87 Posts

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I remember Lendl making a comment about why he retired. he said it wasnt a decline in strength or speed that caused his game to drop off as he got older but it was his reaction time. i guess he was saying that he could hit a ball as hard as before (which is not surprising as strength stays longer) and he could sprint as quickly as before (or at least not so far off it was not a critical issue) but it was his ability to respond immediately that fell away and with that goes your ability to get to the ball in position in time against bigger hitters/servers. I would love to see his return of serve stats over time bc if it was his reaction times dropping then that would be the easiest way to spot it.
Interesting comments from Lendl, as a fan back in the day, though don't recall his final couple of years that well. (not as much media outlets back then for following the whole tour year round)
It's like some other sports, like cricket I mentioned back in 2014, a fraction of a drop off in reflexes and reaction time, and this could be the difference between getting out or clubbing the ball to the boundary.
I recall Adam Gilchrist retired at 36, due to a slight drop in his wicket keeping reflexes. (although his batting was still ok)
SO it is very small margins.
Ironic, we now have a 36.5 y.o. Number 1, so keeping those reflexes must not be the same for everyone.
Of course Federer is not the normal player, most of the current crop will be dropping well down the rankings by then, if they are still around.
 

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Interesting comments from Lendl, as a fan back in the day, though don't recall his final couple of years that well. (not as much media outlets back then for following the whole tour year round)
It's like some other sports, like cricket I mentioned back in 2014, a fraction of a drop off in reflexes and reaction time, and this could be the difference between getting out or clubbing the ball to the boundary.
I recall Adam Gilchrist retired at 36, due to a slight drop in his wicket keeping reflexes. (although his batting was still ok)
SO it is very small margins.
Ironic, we now have a 36.5 y.o. Number 1, so keeping those reflexes must not be the same for everyone.
Of course Federer is not the normal player, most of the current crop will be dropping well down the rankings by then, if they are still around.
Generally I think that "short time" abilities (reflexes, bursts of acceleration, change of direction) decline earlier than "long time" abilities (endurance). For this reason marathoners and cyclists achieve great success at the age of 30-35. In tennis you need both of them. Federer is an exception as Swiss doctors apparently developed a mixture that makes people younger.
 

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A multitude of reasons but I'd like to mention one more factor: The density of talent.

Tennis is played all over the world by millions upon millions of people, more than any other 1-vs.-1 sport, so it takes a lot of talent and hard work to reach the top. Every player inside the top 100 or even top 200 is a genius level talent, one that would blow 99,99+% of their peers out of the water. That's not to say that Badminton or other one-on-one sports aren't stacked with brilliant talents, but the more people play a sport the slimmer the margins in the rankings become. The difference in talent between top 100 or top 10 isn't that incredible, yet a few percent or even tenths of a percent in terms of ability and fitness make all the difference between losing 2:6, 2:6 and winning 7-5, 6-3.
Here's a stat: The average percentage of points won by the number 1 player in the last 15 or so years was 55%. So even peak Djokovic and Federer lost almost half of all points played over the course of a year. The margins are tiny yet supreme athletes can make the gulf look big because every little advantage can lead to a big discrepancy on court.
So once you lose just a fraction of reaction time, speed, strength, stamina and recovery ability, the drop can look dramatic. Add to that that tennis pros have to go full throttle almost all year round against strong competition from all over the world AND don't have a team to use as a crutch once their physical attributes are properly on the wane and hey presto: Comparatively short peak.

The average peak years of tennis seem to have shifted a little, but I guess that's down to even more people playing the sport world wide and the further increase in physicality and the overall slower courts. These courts reward physicality and consistency more than fast courts where you can prevail with pure shotmaking and a strong serve alone. Reaching that physical peak takes time, you need to develop a schedule that enables you to stay in top shape week after week after week. And consistency - for players that aren't freaks like Nadal, Murray and Djokovic - usually comes with experience and mental growth.

Edit: It all goes to show how truly incredibly Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic are. They mantained a ridiculous level for over a decade each, being so consistent that every loss against a player not from the big 4 and the occasional Wawrinka or del Potro in god mode was seen as a world shattering upset.
 

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A multitude of reasons but I'd like to mention one more factor: The density of talent.

Tennis is played all over the world by millions upon millions of people, more than any other 1-vs.-1 sport, so it takes a lot of talent and hard work to reach the top. Every player inside the top 100 or even top 200 is a genius level talent, one that would blow 99,99+% of their peers out of the water. That's not to say that Badminton or other one-on-one sports aren't stacked with brilliant talents, but the more people play a sport the slimmer the margins in the rankings become. The difference in talent between top 100 or top 10 isn't that incredible, yet a few percent or even tenths of a percent in terms of ability and fitness make all the difference between losing 2:6, 2:6 and winning 7-5, 6-3.
Here's a stat: The average percentage of points won by the number 1 player in the last 15 or so years was 55%. So even peak Djokovic and Federer lost almost half of all points played over the course of a year. The margins are tiny yet supreme athletes can make the gulf look big because every little advantage can lead to a big discrepancy on court.
So once you lose just a fraction of reaction time, speed, strength, stamina and recovery ability, the drop can look dramatic. Add to that that tennis pros have to go full throttle almost all year round against strong competition from all over the world AND don't have a team to use as a crutch once their physical attributes are properly on the wane and hey presto: Comparatively short peak.

The average peak years of tennis seem to have shifted a little, but I guess that's down to even more people playing the sport world wide and the further increase in physicality and the overall slower courts. These courts reward physicality and consistency more than fast courts where you can prevail with pure shotmaking and a strong serve alone. Reaching that physical peak takes time, you need to develop a schedule that enables you to stay in top shape week after week after week. And consistency - for players that aren't freaks like Nadal, Murray and Djokovic - usually comes with experience and mental growth.

Edit: It all goes to show how truly incredibly Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic are. They mantained a ridiculous level for over a decade each, being so consistent that every loss against a player not from the big 4 and the occasional Wawrinka or del Potro in god mode was seen as a world shattering upset.
Pretty much this.^
 
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