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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed lately the growing force of players either over 30 at least 28? I remember a time when players who were 26 were usually beginning to fade, and having done that, they retired soon afterwards. At 27 not many considered that they could actually improve, which is incredible to think when many athletes would call 26-32 their physical prime.

I'm afraid that I don't have much statistical evidence to back up my claim, but all I can say is ten years ago the typical top 10-20 players were Graf, Seles, Sanchez-Vicario, Martinez, Novotna, Pierce, Sabatini, Huber, Majoli, Date, Fernandez, Maleeva, Coetzer, Pierce, Zvereva, Schultz-McCarthy, and if you consider that she would have undoubtedly been top 20 if she was playing, Capriati. Of those players, all were under 25 except Graf and Novotna at 26.

Ten years ago, at the age of 24/25, you were seriously getting on. Do we consider Dementieva, Myskina, Venus Williams, Serena, Mauresmo, etc to be getting old?

These days, there are top 20 players either pushing or already 30 in Pierce, Davenport...once again, are we going to include Capriati?, Farina-Elia, while Sugiyama, Martinez, Likhovtseva, Maleeva, Frazier and hopefully Rubin are still knocking about. The oldest player I can think of 10 years ago was Sandra Ceccini at 29, and she was on the way out.

And I can only see this becoming more and more common. Will great athletes like all these Russians, the Williams', or Mauresmo, who will more than likely STILL be trying to reach beyond the quarters in Paris, want to just hang up their rackets in 4 or 5 years time? I doubt it!

So why is this change occurring?

My theory is that 30 was never the barrier that we thought it was. The great 3&0 is a myth that pervades in not only sport, but in society. The only way in which the body tangibly begins to slow down once that number has been reached is through wear and tear, years of injuries taking their toll. But that can happen just as easily at the age of 25 or even 22 in some cases, as we've seen in countless players whose success was hindered by injuries which resulted in them losing some of their speed.

But players are starting, on average, to reach the top 20 over the age of 18 now, so their peak years are beginning to rise to around the ages that peak periods were thought to encompass before the likes of Austin and Jaeger arrived in the late 70s. And therefore, players' bodies at least have the potential to last longer. Despite the fact that players are injured more frequently now, the current problem is due to the rigours of the schedules and training demands, so although this may seem contrary to players' peak years being later, my point is that with the age eligibility rule at least teenage girls are now given a chance to grow into their beefed-up games.

So why, aside from the game being physically less demanding for youngsters, were so few players in their 30s, or even over 26 in the higher echelons of the game (except freaks of nature like Martina Navratilova) in the 1990s?

From 1984 onwards, wooden rackets were being abandoned and kids were picking up larger, heavier rackets that enabled them to hit the ball sweeter. Techniques didn't have to be as cautious and as controlled as, for example, Evert's text book backhand. Young children like Seles, Capriati, Davenport, Huber, Rubin, Majoli, Pierce were picking up these new rackets and exploring their capabilities.

Meanwhile, a 12 or 13 year-old German girl, whose game was only part-developed, was able to grow with the new technology far better than most of the established top 10 whose techniques and games were already the bedrock of their success. Navratilova could moderate to accommodate a graphite racket, but when she was already dominating the tour in a way nobody else had done previously, then she was unlikely to suddenly explore the possibility of hitting baseline winners. Similarly, Evert became a champion with a game that involved percentage play, outmanouevring her opponents and being relentlessly accurate. She had nothing to gain from risking her technical and tactical superiority falling apart by firing bullet-like winners. The point is that from the early/mid 80s and for the next 4 or 5 years, players were still learning how best to effect the new technology. And youngsters had more reasons to be explorative.

And then came the first missile to shake women's tennis, Steffi Graf. She was the first to learn to use the new technology to its maximum effect, pulverising forehands and constantly serving at over 100mph. Martina, being the athlete that she was, was able to perform admirably, but Steffi's game simply suited the new racket technology better. You have to ask why there's a shortage of serve and volleyers in women's tennis today? The tactic is still as effective when it's done expertly, but it's that much more difficult to learn serve and volley when faced with blistering returns of the kind that could not be generated from wooden racketheads. But that's another discussion.

So in c1988, all the players of 25 and over were a dying breed. The younger players of the old style (such as Sabatini) were able, if they were talented or exceptional athletes, to adapt their games to a level that was more combative of the new style. Even the less talented "also ran" players at 22 were not too old to have incentive to at least improvise. But for players who only were already halfway or more through their careers, there was little incentive to move away from moonballing and steady baseline play towards the all-conquering more brutal attacking style spearheaded first of all by Graf, and later by perhaps a more important figure in terms of the direction in which the game has gone.

Monica Seles hit the ball hard from both sides. Double-barelled fusillades, Bud Collins called them. For the first time, return winners became the norm. There were exceptions like Aranxta, or Novotna, yet I would argue that they or their coaches anticipated the changes happening, and part of the youngsters' practice sessions was learning how to use their own games to maximum effect against the baseline bashers.

By 1991, the broadside brigade was coming thick and fast. Capriati was already pushing towards becoming a slam winner - something she wasn't far off at just 15! Pierce made inroads into the top 20 a year later. Davenport was a growing lass (to say the least), while Seles was showing coaches all across the world how a simple formula with the new technology (which was still less than 10 years old - do you remember how many wooden rackets you still saw on club tennis courts well into the 90s?) could lead to almost total dominance of a sport at just 17. Because, that was another thing - coaches wanted success the easiest way, and as fast as Seles and, to a lesser extent, Capriati. No doubt Richard Williams was watching closely, as was Yuri Sharapov, Damir Dokic and undoubtedly Mirjana Lucic's father.

So let me reconcile this with the rise of the late 20s/early 30s players that we're seeing, and I believe will see increasingly more in years to come, holding their own against players over a decade younger.

Does, for example, Mary Pierce play differently from Sharapova? For that matter, why is Sharapova -- aside from the grunt, although you might want to include that too -- so often compared with Monica Seles? How was Capriati able to play at the level she did until only last year, despite having a 7 year dry spell? Does Myskina, or Dementieva, or Zvonareva, or Bovina REALLY have a different style of play from players who were their ages a decade ago, such as Huber, or Majoli? And of course that begs the question, how is it that Lindsay Davenport has still one of the most formidable games in tennis, despite being one of the older generation I'm using as a comparison?

The answer is of course that there has been no significant change in styles over the last ten years, whereas in the late 80s going into the 90s there was a huge changing of the guard. So a player at 30 years of age who is fit, hungry and injury-free -- having already discarded the theory of players almost by order of genetics losing a step on the day of their 30th birthday -- has a strong chance of competing with the styles of today's players because it is the players of the early 90s who brought forward the style that is currently to the fore.

I think from now on we are going to see increasingly players in their later 20s and early 30s making charges into the 2nd week of slams, and in many cases, ending with the trophy.

What is depressing, however, is that it's hard to see another changing of the guard that will combat this cloned style of baseline thumping that's being nurtured by coaches, particularly in light of Hingis' demise. But that's yet another discussion...
 

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There is still time for Seles, Mary, Amelie, etc.!

Allez!
 
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i agree with you...very well thought out post. i'd rep you but my stupid computer wont let me
 

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I am not that knowledgeable on tennis of old but i will give you a kudos on this one.

I think you have just presented a theory that may won you the case!
 

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The game is based so much on power these days, and most of the top players are extremely streaky.

SO consistent veterans can still do some damage:D
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Pamela Shriver said:
Just wait until I make my comeback....
Hehe, well actually - there's another question. In 10 years time when Pierce, Capriati, Monica, Steffi, half the Russians and probably even the Williams sisters are no longer playing on the tour...will vets like you stand a freakin chance in the over 35s? LOL
 

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Steffica Greles said:
Hehe, well actually - there's another question. In 10 years time when Pierce, Capriati, Monica, Steffi, half the Russians and probably even the Williams sisters are no longer playing on the tour...will vets like you stand a freakin chance in the over 35s? LOL
Of course! By then Martina will have given me the secrets to her ever lasting youth.
 

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I think it depends more on the type of the game than on the age ...

Players like Martinez or Smashnova are still able to win tournaments, but not the biggest, and they clearly can't beat the best when they play at their best!
I mean, how Conchita and her powerless game can challenge a Davenport, a Sharapova, a Williams, or another powerfull girl now ?
Conchiota was number 2, and it's obvious that she's unable to reach again the top 10, because of her game more than her body.
On contrary, Mary Pierce, Jennifer Capriati, or Lindsay Davenport have a powerfull game, and they hit the ball harder than a lot of new balls. They have the game to challenger everyone on tour, and i think i can add that they have involved a lot !
All over the years, Lindsay is becoming fitter and fitter, she's on shape ! The same with Mary Pierce, she was out of shape last years, but now that she has a new athlete body, she has great results and nobody can say "she has no chance to win against this one". The same with Jennifer, when she's fit, who can be sure that she's not able to win a slam beating all the russian girls ?!

So, more than an age, tennis is based on the game, whatever your age is !
Flipkens is quite young, but she has a powerless tennis, she can't do a lot of things with the ball, she can't hit a winner ... that's why i can't imagine her winning against a big hitter with great strokes !
Powerfull girl like Mary, Lindsay, Monica and Jennifer have changed the tennis, and they have improved all over the years too ! The Davenport of 2005 is a lot better than the Lindsay who was struggling against Hingis for example ! Mary Pierce is clearly playing the best she has ever played ...
Not sure than Conchita is doing more things than a decade ago ... and that's why she's now far from her best, far from being able to win a slam, far from being the number 2.

Tennis has changed, those who didn't change, who didn't improve with the game, can't expect to be under the highlights. I mean, Hingis was young, but unable to hit the ball harder, and she was forced to stop (or to be a top 20, or top 15, but not a number one).
And i wanna add that ok Henin is not as powerfull as Lindsay or Serena, and she's clearly able to challenge and beat them, but she serves 118-miles aces so ... she's not as powerless as that ! ;)

:wavey:
 

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Great thread, Steffica Greles (not that I'd expect any less from you). Interesting theory which I do agree with. One thing that remains to be seen is whether the players that will rise to the top (in future generations) can drive the 'old guard' away as quickly as was done in previous generations. Steffi singlehandedly drove out Evert and Navratilova. Monica drove out Steffi (though they were from the same generation). Martina II never got the opportunity to drive out Steffi and for all the talk of the new generation, the oldies won all the Slams (infact, Hingis was the only teenager who contested Slam finals and won a Slam) in 1998. By, 1999, however, with Hingis and Serena both winning Slams, it was clear that the sport belonged to the youth. Once these new kids show up in another 3-5 years, I wonder whether the old guard will fight like the veterans did in 1998-1999 before handing over the torch, or whether they'll stand aside like Martina and Chris. I guess part of it depends on whether there's another Steffi or Monica in that new generation.
 

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Agree with everything Graffica says and it does explain why somebody in their early 30's can still challenge for the Grand Slam titles.

Certainly to be able to play with great power from the baseline is essential for success in today's game but it would be a shame if everyone ended up in the same mould - double handed backhand, big serve, no variety.

After all, we can see that modern racket technology does allow for variety - hence the success of Federer and Henin-Hardenne. I would hope that surely coaches will look at their games and learn from them. If everyone does play the same way then something a bit more special will be required to get to the top?
 

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Interesting theory, but I think the resurgence of certain veterans is also partly to do with the fact that the women's game is probably at its weakest right now than it has been for some time. The players who have shown the ability to play at the very highest level seem only to be able to do so for 4-5 weeks per year without getting injured or running into poor form. And the veterans you mentioned can frankly only dream of playing as well as the past few Slam champions have.

The Mary Pierce resurgence is gearing up to be one of the most overrated stories in 2005. Count the number of top 10 players she's beaten this year. And see what happened when she did run into an elite player on a big stage.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
I don't normally bump my threads up, but it kind of answers the question Calimero asks in his thread about the over 30s. :)
 
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