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Disappointing Young Guns
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El Dude Offline
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Disappointing Young Guns
They just don't see to be able to take it up a notch - and I mean none of them. Or, at least, its been baby steps. I'm not disappointed with Grigor Dimitrov getting beaten by Djokovic in the French Open, but I am disappointed by him almost losing to Dudi Sela and then losing to an ancient Lleyton Hewitt. Or Raonic and Janowicz going out in the R32 of Halle.

What gives? Am I expecting too much? I was hoping that these three players would at least start competing in lesser tournaments, even the ATP1000. Am I being impatient or is the simple truth that none of these three are destined to be anything more than top 20ish players?
13-Jun-2013 11:04 AM
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Kieran Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
It's difficult to explain why the youngsters aren't up to much. At a similar age, we could see that the Big 3 had something, but of course, we couldn't be sure to what extent. But the young players now are lacking it. Is it motivation? Graft? Heart? Are they too wealthy? The Big 3 were similarly wealthy at the same point in their careers.

What separates an under-achiever from the over-achievers?

I don't know, but I think your previous analysis was correct: the next all-timer is probably about 16 or 17 right now...
13-Jun-2013 11:24 AM
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tented Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
(13-Jun-2013 11:24 AM)Kieran Wrote:  It's difficult to explain why the youngsters aren't up to much. At a similar age, we could see that the Big 3 had something, but of course, we couldn't be sure to what extent. But the young players now are lacking it. Is it motivation? Graft? Heart? Are they too wealthy? The Big 3 were similarly wealthy at the same point in their careers.

What separates an under-achiever from the over-achievers?

I don't know, but I think your previous analysis was correct: the next all-timer is probably about 16 or 17 right now...

From one of Jon Wertheim's recent posts:

"Recently, a reader from Chile told me to keep an eye on a player in the boys draw, Christian Garin, whom Nadal and his uncle Toni spotted at the Vina del Mar event and began to mentor. Of course, the kid goes on to win the juniors [Roland Garros]. Fame is in the forecast."

Garin just turned 17:

http://www.atpworldtour.com/Tennis/Playe...Garin.aspx
13-Jun-2013 11:33 AM
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Broken_Shoelace Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
(13-Jun-2013 11:24 AM)Kieran Wrote:  It's difficult to explain why the youngsters aren't up to much. At a similar age, we could see that the Big 3 had something, but of course, we couldn't be sure to what extent. But the young players now are lacking it. Is it motivation? Graft? Heart? Are they too wealthy?

They're just as not as talented.
13-Jun-2013 01:03 PM
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huntingyou Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
different times, different sport

I expect Grigor at age 24 to start winning big and that could be the norm from now on. I think the days of teenagers beating the top players and winning big titles are long gone. It's a men's game in every sense of the world.


Murray back in 2006 (age17?) was already showing a lot of promise as well. At age 21, he was an Elite established player. I know some like to exclude Murray from the big guys (Big 3) but at this point 3+1 it's the least we can call him.
13-Jun-2013 02:31 PM
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Kieran Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
(13-Jun-2013 01:03 PM)Broken_Shoelace Wrote:  
(13-Jun-2013 11:24 AM)Kieran Wrote:  It's difficult to explain why the youngsters aren't up to much. At a similar age, we could see that the Big 3 had something, but of course, we couldn't be sure to what extent. But the young players now are lacking it. Is it motivation? Graft? Heart? Are they too wealthy?

They're just as not as talented.

Well hang on! It can't be that. We've been told often enough here that Nadal - for example - is a donkey who drags great talented players down a coal hole.

Nah, you're barking up the wrong 'un there, bro...
13-Jun-2013 02:39 PM
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johnsteinbeck Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
you stole my idea for a title (even got a pm to Kieran to prove it)! Wink mine though, is a broader one: The Disappointments. they're a bigger gang, and they haven't failed to disappoint in years: Berdych and Tsonga - always good enough to threaten a top guy; never good enough to keep their sh*t together until the end of a final. Del Potro - always good enough to remind people of what he'd be capable for, but you can count on his body to fall apart before he gets to do any damage. Gasquet - what a dedication to not make QFs at slams!
so really, it's more than just the youngsters. the lost generation is not just the under twenty-five year olds Wink
(This post was last modified: 13-Jun-2013 03:26 PM by johnsteinbeck.)
13-Jun-2013 03:26 PM
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Kieran (06-13-2013)
El Dude Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
johnsteinbeck, there are Berdychs and Tsongas in every generation - players that have the talent to win Slams but just don't seem to have the mental makeup and perhaps the overall game that all great players have (even the less balanced great players are able to compensate for any relative weaknesses). The problem with the age 20-24 generation, though, is that their maximum potential seems to be in the Tsonga/Berdych level - there's no one who looks like a truly great player.

huntingyou, I suspect you're right that Dimitrov - and probably a bunch of other young players - won't hit their peak level until about age 24. But the problem is that historically great players have shown how good they will be by the time they're 21 or so. I don't think 2013 is so different from, say, 2008 when Djokovic and Murray turned 21 and were already elite (or close to elite) players. In other words, we all knew that Novak, Andy, Roger, and Rafa would be great by the time they were 21 - not necessarily how great, but that they would be elite. The jury is still out on Raonic, Janowicz, and Dimitrov - and they're all 22. This leads me to believe that none of them will become true elite players, but more in the sub-elite territory like the current "Next Four."

Tented, thanks for the heads-up about Garin. I'll add him to Kyrgios on my list of very young players to watch.
(This post was last modified: 13-Jun-2013 09:46 PM by El Dude.)
13-Jun-2013 09:44 PM
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BalaryKar Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
Please pardon for the ignorance, I have a bit different idea here. Are the current youngsters too spoiled by Internet and Technology? It is not just about tennis, in the academic front too it appears the same.

Drawing another analogy from the academic world, we say that it is not correct to expect another Einstein or Hawking. A regular machine, read Universities, can at most produce Ph.D's and never scientists of the calibre of Einstein, or even 1/10th of them. However, I agree that it sucks that only del Potro outside of the top 4 has won a slam in what is now just 6 slams short of a decade Sad
(This post was last modified: 14-Jun-2013 03:09 AM by BalaryKar.)
14-Jun-2013 03:09 AM
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herios Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
(13-Jun-2013 02:31 PM)huntingyou Wrote:  different times, different sport

I expect Grigor at age 24 to start winning big and that could be the norm from now on. I think the days of teenagers beating the top players and winning big titles are long gone. It's a men's game in every sense of the world.


Murray back in 2006 (age17?) was already showing a lot of promise as well. At age 21, he was an Elite established player. I know some like to exclude Murray from the big guys (Big 3) but at this point 3+1 it's the least we can call him.

I have to agree, it is now clear for me, as we had the discussion recently, that age in men's tennis has been shifted now, about 2-3 years forward.
I am not expecting any miracles and conceded to the fact that is a mens world out there, no room for boys.
Dimi, Raonic an JJ wwill all be fine and in the top 10 sooner or later, but they are now progressing in baby steps.
I don't know if Grigor ill dominate as you say, I am not being that bold, nor believe Johnny Mac anymore, after his D. Young fiasco Lay Down Laughing
MacEnroe just said at RG, that Dimitrov will be top 10 by the end of this year??? and he is top 5 material. I disagree with his first statement but about the top 5 I am sure he will be there at one point.
Breaking down Grigor he needs to otk on a few things: stamina, that is a must, but also footwork and ROS (these two were really bad in the match ith Hewitt).
(This post was last modified: 18-Jun-2013 01:35 PM by herios.)
18-Jun-2013 06:35 AM
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El Dude Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
I'm still not convinced. We can all agree that there are no true elite players age 25 or below (the Big Four are 26, 26, 27 and 31), but I'm not sure if this is because the peak age has been pushed back a few years as many are saying, or if we're just in a talent lull (or possibly both).

In other words, when we look at the newly 22-year old Grigor Dimitrov, possibly the most well-rounded Young Gun, do we see someone akin to Roger Federer at 19-20 when Roger was ranked similarly (#29 at the end of 2000 and #13 at the end of 2001, when Roger was 19 and 20 respectively)? If that's the case, then Grigor just needs more time to develop and, if he follows a similar curve to Roger, will end this year (age 22) around #20, next year (age 23) around #10, and in 2015 (age 24) around #5, which would place him about three years behind Federer.

But the problem here again is that no true all-time great players weren't playing at a very high level at the age of 21-22. Roger Federer is actually somewhat of a late-bloomer; he didn't enter the top 10 until age 20 and won his first Slam a few months shy of turning 22. Even Andy Murray, the only one of the Big Four not considered an all-time great, was in the top 20 around the time he turned 19 and a top 5 player around the time he turned 21. And it isn't like 2008 (the year Murray and Djokovic both turned 21) is so long ago that the game was so different.

Actually, one way to separate the true elites of the game and the "near-elites" is that where the former find a "plateau" (close-to-peak) form around age 21 and gradually improve until peaking around 24-25, the latter take a bit longer to reach their plateau, and consequently don't rise as high as they peak. This is borne out in the careers of near-elites such as David Ferrer, JW Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, David Nalbandian, Nikokay Davydenko, etc. There are some variations - like players that show a high form very young but don't go any higher or are erratic (e.g. Nalbandian and Berdych), players that take a bit longer to peak (e.g. Ferrer and Soderling), etc, but by and large there's a similar pattern: a couple years longer to plateau and a lower peak.

As I've said before, I can't see any of the current 20-25 year olds ever becoming multi-Slam winners mainly because they're showing developmental patterns more similar to the near-elites than the elites. I can see Dimitrov, Raonic, and Janowicz all being top 10 players, even winning a Slam or two each, but only when the Big Four start to decline (and perhaps only because they'll be peaking, age 24-25, at around that time).

The one chink in my argument, as I see it, is that it seems that more and more non-elite players are playing their best tennis in their late 20s. I don't know if this is an exception or the historical rule for non-elite players. It also could be that with improvements in conditioning regimes that peaks are being extended, so in this sense it will be interesting to see how Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal age. They're all at the age, 26 or 27, when most all-time greats have taken a half-step down.

In other words, we could say that the "normal" developmental pattern for a great player is something like this:

18-20: Developmental phase
21-23: Early Plateau phase
24-26: Absolute Peak
27-29: Late Plateau phase
30-32: Decline phase

Or something like that. These aren't hard and fast rules, but that is about the average for great players.
(This post was last modified: 18-Jun-2013 09:12 AM by El Dude.)
18-Jun-2013 09:09 AM
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herios Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
(18-Jun-2013 09:09 AM)El Dude Wrote:  The one chink in my argument, as I see it, is that it seems that more and more non-elite players are playing their best tennis in their late 20s. I don't know if this is an exception or the historical rule for non-elite players. It also could be that with improvements in conditioning regimes that peaks are being extended, so in this sense it will be interesting to see how Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal age. They're all at the age, 26 or 27, when most all-time greats have taken a half-step down.

In other words, we could say that the "normal" developmental pattern for a great player is something like this:

18-20: Developmental phase
21-23: Early Plateau phase
24-26: Absolute Peak
27-29: Late Plateau phase
30-32: Decline phase

Or something like that. These aren't hard and fast rules, but that is about the average for great players.

I know you are not convinced, but current facts are against your theory. I am totally buying into the fact that the age range for the players phases has been shifted and that is why we won't see any younger player , 22-23 lifting a slam trophy in the forceable future.
I can see also the new number #1 (outside of the current or former ones) as being already a well known player. And I am not convinced that he will be Andy either, because of his clay resume, which is a big liability.
20-Jun-2013 06:45 AM
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El Dude Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
Herios, I'm not sure how "current facts are against [my] theory." What I think we can't tell yet is whether the age range has shifted back, as you say, or that it is more that we're in a talent lull (or, as I think likely, some of both). But I don't think we can say that it is just an age shift simply because there's no great player under age 25. There have been other times in tennis history in which there was a lack of top young talent - take the late 90s, for instance. Sure, there were some excellent young players but no true greats until Federer came along.

I'll see if I can create a chart that expresses this.

Here's one thing we can do relatively easily. Here's a list of the birth years of every player of the Open Era that has won four or more Slams - and within the Open Era. Now to some degree the criteria of 4 Slam victories is relatively arbitrary, but I think it is a decent simple way to define all-time greatness; at the least I think we can say that the 4-Slam winners (Vilas and Courier) are on the lower end of true greatness, and that the 2-3 Slam winners (e.g. Kuerten, Safin, Hewitt, Bruguera, Kafelnikov, Rafter, Kodes, Ashe, Smith, etc) all fall a bit short of true greatness.


1987 Novak Djokovic
1986 Rafael Nadal
1981 Roger Federer
1971 Pete Sampras
1970 Andre Agassi, Jim Courier
1967 Boris Becker
1966 Stefan Edberg
1964 Mats Wilander
1960 Ivan Lendl
1959 John McEnroe
1956 Bjorn Borg
1952 Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas
1944 John Newcombe
1938 Rod Laver
1934 Ken Rosewall

As you can see, the greatest gap is between Sampras and Federer - a span of ten years, which is the only gap longer than 5 years between Connors and Djokovic. If we go back to Rosewall, we get the following gaps:

4, 6, 8, 0, 4, 3, 1, 4, 2, 1, 3, 0, 1, 10, 5, 1

That's an average of 3.3 years, with a range of 0-10. Let's take a look at the whole span, which would be 1987 (Djokovic's birth year) to 1997 (juniors turning 16 years old this year). Here are some of the better players (that we know of) born in those years:

1987 - Andy Murray, Sam Querrey, Jeremy Chardy, Thomaz Bellucci
1988 - Juan Martin Del Potro, Marin Cilic, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Ernests Gulbis
1989 - Kei Nishikori, Benoit Paire, Martin Klizan, Donald Young
1990 - Milos Raonic, Jerzy Janowicz, David Goffin, Yevgeny Donskoy
1991 - Grigor Dimitrov, Andrey Kuznetsov, Denis Kudla
1992 - Bernard Tomic, Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock, James Duckworth
1993 - Jiri Vesely, Dominic Thiem
1994 - Lucas Pouille, Filip Peliwo, Luke Saville, Christian Harrison
1995 - Nick Kyrgios
1996 - Christian Garin, Gianluigi Quinzi, Noah Rubin

Andy Murray still has a chance of becoming a 4+ Slam winner, but its hard to imagine any of the other players in the 1987-89 birth years accomplishing that. There's a pocket of possible players in 90-91, namely Raonic, Janowicz, and Dimitrov, that have outside chances. After that, who knows? But it does seem that the next great player - if we define "great" by 4+ Slam wins - was born in 1993 or later.
(This post was last modified: 20-Jun-2013 12:07 PM by El Dude.)
20-Jun-2013 11:35 AM
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huntingyou Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
dude you are getting lost in your numbers.

What happened to Hewitt? He was indeed between Sampras and Federer but you excluded him because Roger happened to surpass him. What about old Agassi in the early 00s? He was playing great tennis as well.

This things don't fit pretty in your imaginary construct, herios is right on point; there is no denying the game has changed dramatically once again. I see no lack of talent but lack of physicality and maturity in addition to a very rare occasion where you have FOUR inclredible tennis talents STILL playing at a high level. Sure, each one of those four are at different stages, specially Roger but the fact remains; you are expecting somebody like Grigor to beat Novak, Nadal and then Ferrer to win a slam (last RG)....ain't happening and it doesn't mean he is no good.

Remember this number: 24!



I forgot to say that Murray is a GREAT player but what happens when you have GREAT players competing against him and there is only 4 opportunities per year to meet your criteria?

The guy has been in 6 slam finals......Federer faced Philippous, Safin, Roddick, Hewitt, Agassi, Baghdatis in his first 6 slams finals while Murray dealt with Federer,and Novak.....and don't forget Rafa in the SF of RG, SW19, UO.
(This post was last modified: 20-Jun-2013 12:57 PM by huntingyou.)
20-Jun-2013 12:50 PM
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El Dude Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
huntingyou, you have a funny way of interpreting what people (or at least I) say. I am not saying that if Grigor doesn't beat Novak then "he is no good." I am saying that he's part of a generation of players (those current age 20-24 or so) that doesn't seem to include any all-time greats. There's quite a lot of range between "no good" and "all-time great." The players listed above are all all-time greats or, in a couple cases (Vilas, Courier), very close to it.

As for Hewitt, there have been others like him but the record is the record - it is what actually happened. Lleyton Hewitt is not in the same category as the "all-time greats" I mentioned; he's in the next category down, with players like Roddick, Safin, and Kuerten. But these aren't the type of players I refer to when looking for the next great - see the first list above of 4+ Slam winners.

I'm less skeptical of the idea that players are taking longer to mature than before than I am of the idea that one of the currrent 20-24 generation is the next all-time great. History has shown time and time again that if you're not close to elite by the age of 21-22 you're almost certainly not going to be an all-time great. This doesn't mean that Raonic, Dimitrov, Janowicz and others won't continue to improve and even win Slams, just that there chances of being all-time greats are close to nil, at least if you look at Open Era history.
20-Jun-2013 01:04 PM
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huntingyou Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
you define all time great by 4 GS wins plus some weeks at #1. I hate to break it to you but a lot has to do with chance as well. Place and time.

The world is very different today, the information age has changed everything and I believe it has impacted the development of youngster as well as the staying power of older players.

What I'm saying is unless a guy like Grigor start beating the current world #1 and his three amigos, you will stay skeptical because that's what it will take for a great talent like him to mark the imaginary boxes you have place on him. He ain't winning a slam this year or next.....Place and time it's not ideal nor his game has fully matured yet. The physical and mental aspect of tennis has reached a peak never seen before in this generation and that's not something you can acquired on a practice court easily.
(This post was last modified: 20-Jun-2013 01:20 PM by huntingyou.)
20-Jun-2013 01:18 PM
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El Dude Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
I agree with much of what you say, huntingyou, but again all we can do in terms of assessing actual greatness is look at what the record says (let's not get into discussions about Nalbandian's "level"!). And yeah, the world is different but most sports have a way of equalizing within context. For instance, in baseball the most common age a position player is when they have their best year is age 27, with a wider peak range of 24-32; this hasn't changed in over a century. Of course there are outliers, but the numbers are pretty consistent, even with the better conditioning of today (one possible game-changer is steroids, but that's another ball of yarn).

Back to tennis, I decided to do some research (more numbers!) to get a sense of when Grand Slam winners "show up on the map," historically speaking. I looked at every player who had

A) won a Grand Slam in the Open Era and
B) was born 1948 or later and thus "came of age" (turned 21) during the Open Era.

I came up with a list of 40 players, from Manuel Orantes (b. 1949) to Juan Martin del Potro (b. 1988). This excludes players like Rosewall, Laver, Ashe, and Newcombe - all of who matured in the pre-Open era - and of course it only includes Slam winners and not those players who had better careers than some Slam winners but never won a Slam (compare, for instance, David Ferrer to Thomas Johansson).

(As a side note, I didn't notice until writing this that that's an average of a Grand Slam winner born every year)

I then looked at the age each player was at the time they went to their first QF, F, and won their first Slam. I'll look at two categories of players: those winning 3+ Slams (15 in all) and those winning at least one Slam (40 in all).

All Slam Winners (40)
First QF: 16-26, avg 20.4 yrs
First F: 17-27, avg 21.7 yrs
First W: 17-30, avg 22.2 yrs

3+ Slam Winners (15)
First QF: 16-22, avg 18.7 yrs
First F: 17-22, 19.6 yrs
First W: 17-24, 20.1 yrs

The first group, all Slam winners, is all over the place. Many one-time Slam winners didn't win their first Slam until deep into their 20s, and couple (Gomez and Korda) were actually 30. It should be noted that of the 40 players, only 9 of them didn't make a Slam QF before their 23rd birthday; 31 of 40 (78%) made a Slam QF at age 22 or younger - and 100% of the 3+ Slam winners.

But the more meaningful information comes from focusing on the players who won 3+ Slams, which gives us a group of players that had more than just a hot tournament or two and were all, to varying degrees, great for an extended period of time. With the 3+ Slam winners the numbers are much tighter; for instance, the oldest 3+ Slam winner to first make a QF was Guillermo Vilas, who was 22. Everyone else was 20 years old or younger.

So think about that for a moment: Every player in Open Era history who has won 3 or more Slams made it to a Slam QF at the age of 22 or younger, and only one of those 15 was older than 20. Note that Janowicz and Raonic turn 23 later this year - so they have two shots to make it to a QF, while Dimitrov has three more shots. At least if they don't want to have to try to start a new trend!

Note also that of those fifteen 3+ Slam winners, all of them made a Slam Final in their 22nd year or younger, and only two (Vilas and Lendl) didn't win a Slam at age 22 or younger. For Raonic, Janowicz, or Dimitrov to make a Slam Final before their 23rd birthday seems far less likely than making a QF.

All of this points to age 22 as being a watershed year in terms of a tennis career, at least historically speaking. It is the year that every single great player of the Open Era - at least those that have won 3 or more Slams - had made a Slam Final by.

Of all Slam winners, here is a list of those players who did NOT make a QF by the time they were 22: Johan Kriek, Patrick Rafter, Brian Teacher, Andres Gomez, Michael Stich, Petr Korda, Thomas Johansson, Gaston Gaudio, and Manuel Orantes.

That's hardly a luminary group - only two won more than a single Slam (Kriek and Rafter), and only Rafter was ever ranked #1. In other words, if the current young players DON'T make a Slam QF before their 23rd birthdays, they're more likely to (again, historically speaking) end up in the above category of players.

Now it could be that all of this is changing - that the magical 22 age of "must have arrived by now" is turning into 24. But history, even recent history (e.g. Nadal, Djokovic, and perhaps Murray) doesn't support this. Its just too soon to tell. We need to see how the current greats age and how quickly the younger generation matures. And this is why I remain unconvinced (although not absolutely opposed):

1) History has been very consistence across 40+ years of Open Era tennis
2) Recent history supports the idea that all-time greats are serious threats by the time they're 22 - and usually a year or two earlier

To put it another way, we have lots of data that points at the 21-22 age range, and only a LACK OF data pointing at 24 being the new maturation age (in other words, a lack of elite 21-23 year olds).

So we'll just have to see. It could be that Janowicz and Raonic and Dimitrov all become elite players at age 24 and each win 3+ Slams. But again, there's overwhelming historical data to point against it, and if they do they'll be the first.
(This post was last modified: 20-Jun-2013 02:49 PM by El Dude.)
20-Jun-2013 02:38 PM
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huntingyou (06-20-2013)
huntingyou Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
Dude,

Excellent post with numbers and analysis!

I think though, those trends are old news but the good thing about this is, we are all witnesses. So we'll see how this narrative plays out; in favor of the trend you just highlighted or herios and myself are into something.
(This post was last modified: 20-Jun-2013 04:57 PM by huntingyou.)
20-Jun-2013 04:57 PM
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secrettennisjunkie Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
El Dude, I enjoy reading these numbers filled posts and I think you have some points. I will be interesting to run the same numbers again in 10 years and look since it certainly looks like the median age of tennis player is increasing, though to your point we don't know yet if the median age of an elite tennis player is increasing since we haven't really had any new elite players for awhile.

I will mention though the Bernard Tomic has already reached a slam QF, as did Dolgopolov (I think before 22) though neither has reached a final obviously and Tomic is running out of time.

It will be interesting to see if the next slam champions are younger players or if they are guys that have toiled in the top 50 for a few years but somehow find a way to take their game to another level (Soderling, Berdych, and Fish come to mind - though they never got over the hump).
21-Jun-2013 10:11 PM
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Moxie629 Offline
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RE: Disappointing Young Guns
NYTimes has an article about a "young gun."

http://straightsets.blogs.nytimes.com/20.../?emc=eta1
21-Jun-2013 10:48 PM
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