Young guns get­ting a lit­tle older

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — As an­other Grand Slam crown looks set to be snaf­fled by a man in his thir­ties this week­end, ten­nis fans lament­ing a dearth of dy­namic up-and-comers need not worry, ac­cord­ing to for­mer world No 1 Mats Wi­lan­der.

Young pre­tenders are still punch­ing their way to the top as they al­ways have — they are just not quite as young as they once were, and are never likely to be in the men’s game, the Swede told Reuters at Wim­ble­don.

Wi­lan­der, now a pre­sen­ter for Eu­rosport, was one of sev­eral stars who took the ten­nis world by storm some 35 years ago when he won his first of seven Grand Slam ti­tles aged just 17.

That French Open vic­tory was fol­lowed a few years later by 17-year-old Boris Becker win­ning Wim­ble­don, and by 19-year-old Ste­fan Ed­berg win­ning in Aus­tralia.

A look at the four play­ers still in con­tention for Sun­day’s men’s Wim­ble­don fi­nal could hardly con­trast more.

Jour­ney­man Sam Quer­rey is 29, Marin Cilic is 28, while To­mas Berdych is 31 and tour­na­ment fa­vorite Roger Fed­erer is a sea­soned 35-year-old.

In fact, five of the last eight men were in their thir­ties.

“I am not say­ing 30 is the new 20, but for sure 30 is the new 23 or 24,” Wi­lan­der said. “When we got to 30 it was a case of ‘come on, he’s done’.

“But now the real win­dow for these guys win­ning big ti­tles is be­tween age 23 or 24 to 33 to 34. Back in my day it was some­thing like 18 to 28.”

The phe­nom­e­non is not as preva­lent in the women’s game. Six of the last eight were un­der 29 with the youngest, Je­lena Ostapenko, just 20.

Wi­lan­der said the rea­son it is un­likely we will see a male teenager break­through soon is be­cause of the in­creased sport­ing longevity of the gi­ants of the game.

“I was talk­ing to (34-yearold beaten quar­ter­fi­nal­ist) Gilles Muller the other day and he was telling me he is a much bet­ter player to­day than he was 10 years ago.

“He, like many of the other guys, is re­ally tak­ing care of his body. The guys now are mak­ing more money, they have got the train­ers and the ther­a­pists and the phys­ios to re­ally take care of them­selves.

“They re­ally are not fad­ing and as a con­se­quence there is less space at the top. More of the play­ers at the top now have even more ex­pe­ri­ence. And it is that ex­pe­ri­ence which is re­ally, re­ally valu­able.”

It is tak­ing new tal­ent longer to find its place in the up­per ech­e­lon of the game, Wi­lan­der said.

“Twenty-four or 25, that is when these guys are just com­ing into their peak,” the Swede, 52, added. “They are just be­com­ing a real threat. Be­cause ev­ery­thing is much, much tougher now. When we started aged 15 or so, there was less to fig­ure out in those days.

“Mi­los Raonic, Grigor Dim­itrov (both 26)... they are the age where they are com­ing through. These young guys are com­ing still, they just won’t ever be as young as they (past break­through play­ers) used to be.”

Sam Quer­rey

Quite a queue

Marin Cilic

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