When Roger Federer became the oldest world number one in tennis history after winning the Rotterdam Open in 2018, it turned the spotlight onto the age of the elite in the modern era.
Naturally, Federer was lauded for his achievement, especially as it came so soon after winning the Australian Open. However, once the dust had settled, it became clear to see that there was a seismic shift happening in the men’s game.
To put it plainly, the best players in the men’s game are considerably older than they have ever been at any stage during the professional era.
The elder statesmen have been showing up their younger counterparts by some degree and you would have to go back to the 2016 men’s Wimbledon final to find a Grand Slam final that wasn’t contested by at least one of the players being over 30-years old.
Since that final on a warm summer’s day in SW19 three years ago, the following ten Grand Slam finals have been won by players who are all older than 30.
The evidence doesn’t just stop there; all of the favourites in tennis betting for all the upcoming Grand Slams in 2019 are all over 30 as well.
Previous wisdom suggested that a player’s career would normally peak at around 28 or 29 and, by 31, they would be unable to compete with the younger rising stars in the game.
Both Boris Becker and Pete Sampras retired at 31 and no one really blinked an eye but, after Andy Murray announced that he could be retiring at 31 due to an ongoing hip problem, the world proclaimed in unison that his career was being cut short in its prime.
By their very nature, phenomena are hard to explain in whatever form they may occur but the one currently defining men’s tennis can be attributed to a level of professionalism never before seen in the game.
New Wave Of Tennis Professionalism
The answer is quite simple and can be best described by the title of Abba’s 1976 hit single ‘Money Money Money.’ There are few sports as lucrative as tennis but only if you are at the very top of the world rankings.
From June 2017 to June 2018, Roger Federer earned an eye-watering $77.2 million through prize money and endorsements. During the same period, Rafa Nadal earned £41.4 million and Novak Djokovic $23.5 million.
Earnings obviously vary and are largely based on what type of commercial appeal a player can offer off the court alongside winnings on it.
Despite these massive numbers at the summit of men’s tennis, it is said that only the top 350 male tennis players on tour are able to make a profit.
The further a player is down the rankings, the more thrifty they have to be about what hotel they stay in and what flights they catch, never mind what type of nutritionist or physiotherapist they can take on tour with them.
Money Can't Buy Happiness But It Can Buy Longevity
When Roger Federer arrives at a tournament, he doesn't slip in through the international arrivals gate pushing a trolley with his tennis equipment in before hailing an Uber to take him to his hotel.
The Swiss legend will arrive in a private jet with his entire entourage in tow. His support staff is made up of two coaches, a personal trainer, physiotherapist, and three nannies as well as tutors for his children.
Similarly, Novak Djokovic won’t arrive with just his racket and high hopes, oh no; following Djokovic’s every move will be his strategist, physio, fitness coach, training partner and, at one stage, even famed spiritual advisor Pepe Imaz before they split up in 2018.
With this type of support, it’s easy to see why Djokovic was the favourite in all the tennis betting tips for the Australian Open and why he eventually won it.
Most of the world's top 20 have the means to employ an entourage of similar size to these ones, which, undoubtedly, gives them a better chance of succeeding on the court.
These days, younger players are walking straight into the lion's den when they arrive on tour as they come up against arguably the greatest players to have ever played the game as well as the best support teams money can buy.
It does make you reconsider whether the old guard will actually be stepping aside to welcome a new generation of players anytime soon?
Why Do Players Go To These Lengths To Win?
Andy Murray was said to eat 50 pieces of sushi during a sitting in a bid to consume 6000 calories a day.
The Scot’s team would track down a sushi restaurant close to where he was playing a particular event and even sent him on his way to Wimbledon with sushi in a cooler so that he could replenish his body after a match.
Over the course of his career and under the guidance of his full-time nutritionist, Murray was able to impressively build his 6 ft 3 frame and, at the height of his powers, he was an imposing 13 ½ stone.
It's been well documented that the rewards on offer today are incomparable to anything the men’s game has historically experienced.
If you go back to Wimbledon 1968, Rod Laver was only given $2,643 after being crowned the winner. Skip forward to 1984 when John McEnroe won Wimbledon and he was given a cheque of $128,000, which equates to around $340,000 in today’s money.
Fast forward to Djokovic’s crushing straight-sets win over Kevin Anderson in the 2018 Wimbledon final, which earned the Serb a whopping $3.3 million in prize money, and it's not hard to figure out why there is a fierce drive to be the best.
The 32-year-old Serb is the favourite in the latest online betting odds to win Wimbledon again this year and, if he does so, he would have taken his entire career earnings on the court to over $125 million.
It Is A Business At The End Of The Day
Professional sport as a whole has evolved to an almost unrecognizable state since the 1980s. Along with greater prize money, the other massive change has been the culture of excellence and dedication.
Gone are the days of Ian Botham having a pint during the lunch break, George Best a cigarette at half time or John McEnroe doing a few star jumps as a warm-up before appearing in a Wimbledon final.
The players at the very top have taken advantage of the breakthrough in sports medicine and almost any other advance that has been suggested to get ahead, given the carrot that is being dangled in front of them.
Tennis is no different but, the wealthier the player, the more they can utilise all the various different ways to give them that competitive edge and help them dominate the sport.
With seven of the top ten in the men's official world rankings all over thirty years old, there can be no doubt that players are massively benefiting from having the help of a 24-hour team that analyse everything they do from eating to sleeping.
The rigorous physical conditioning they have undergone for the duration of their twenties means the good players are now able to stay just as competitive throughout their thirties and beyond.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*