Wimbledon 2018: Why are veterans dominating the men’s singles draw?

Of the 32 male players that made it to round three this week, two thirds were at least 28 years of age while a dozen were into their fourth decade...

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We’ve made it through the first week of Wimbledon 2018 and the oldest grand slam of them all is showing its age – at least in the men’s draw.

Of the 32 male players that made it to round three this week, two thirds were at least 28 years of age while a dozen were into their fourth decade. For comparison, only 13 women in the third round were 28 or older.

Out of all these male veterans, I’m sure you’ll recognise a few names.

After his straight sets defeat of Jan Lennard Struff, 36-year-old Roger Federer is hoping to win four more matches and capture an absurd ninth Singles title. The defending champion will be joined in the second week by arch rival/best mate Rafael Nadal (32), who had a comfortable victory over Alex de Minaur on Saturday.

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The presence of these ageless supermen, owners of 37 majors between them, should come as no surprise. However, the modern men’s tour is definitely aging and this can be illustrated by some of the lower ranked sluggers hovering around SW19.

Kevin Anderson, aged 32 and last year’s US Open runner-up, attained a career high ranking of seven just this May. The powerful South African will face fellow 30-something Gael Monfils in the fourth round here.

The coming week will also see a couple of 33-year-olds pursue unlikely spots in the last eight.

Gargantuan server John Isner had never been past the third round here but is playing the best tennis of his career right now. Meanwhile, the deceptively tricksy Gilles Simon was a quarterfinalist in 2015 and needs to topple 29-year-old Juan Martin del Potro to repeat that trick.

The appearance of so many mature players at the latter stages of a grand slam is not a new phenomenon.

You have to go back to Wimbledon 2016 to find the last major with a male winner under the age of 30. That year, 29-year-old Andy Murray claimed his second title at the All England Club with a straight sets defeat of Milos Raonic in the final.

31-year-old Stan Wawrinka triumphed in New York that September, starting the recent trend of older champions. Federer and Nadal shared the six grand slams since then and look ready for more.

The dynamic duo are far from the the only guys playing good tennis for longer though.

The average age of today’s ATP Top 10 is a lofty 29, two years older than the WTA. The top ten should actually skew older as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are currently outside it after prolonged absences.

The age gap between the genders gets more extreme when you broaden the pool, with 36 of the men’s top 100 over 30 compared with 21 in the women’s game.

An exceptional example of this longevity is world no.70 Feliciano Lopez.

The 36-year-old received a memento at the All England Club this week to recognise his participation in 66 consecutive grand slams, one more than Federer managed. The Spaniard last missed a major in early 2002, an astonishing achievement and representative of the broad change in the game.

Lopez put his streak down to a healthy diet, luck with injuries and extreme handsomeness.

Improvements in training and recovery have definitely helped players stay on the court more often and for longer. A generally healthy body has been a crucial factor in the success of Federer whereas Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Gael Monfils have often been hindered by physical setbacks.

If a male player can develop their body and mind to deal with the gruelling routine of tour life, they can be very hard to dislodge. Durable veterans like Fernando Verdasco, Philipp Kohlschreiber and David Ferrer won’t give up their place at the big dance to some young bucko with a couple of moves.

Teenagers particularly find it difficult to break into the top 100 given the head start veterans have, plus the challenge of five sets in majors. As of this week, there are only three of them on the dancefloor: Alex de Minaur, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov.

Getting to the latter stages of grand slam is an even bigger obstacle, just ask world no.4 Sascha Zverev who had to really grind to a first major fourth round last month in Paris.

With Federer and Nadal still playing so well, Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka on the mend and a deep field of wily veterans, don’t be surprised if we see 30-something major winners for a while longer.

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