Cameron on tennis: Age is just a number

No 34-year-old, who has had multiple injuries and surgeries throughout his career, should be playing as well as Tommy Haas has been. (AP/Alan Diaz)

Tommy Haas is only 34-years-old. No, he’s not old. But in tennis years, he’s ancient and eligible for a seniors’ discount.

Tennis is supposed to be a young man’s game. With the grueling eleven-month schedule, it would make sense for the fresh, strong and energetic youth to dominate the sport. That used to be the case – when teenagers like Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova, and Rafael Nadal were winning Grand Slams – but that doesn’t happen anymore.

Tennis is no longer a young person’s game. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are approaching the prime of their careers at the ripe age of 26. The average age of the ATP and WTA top five is 27-years-old and young players like Ryan Harrison, Milos Raonic, Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitrov, while skilled, aren’t nearly at the same level as tennis’ elite.

But why?

Why is it that Roger Federer, Serena Williams, David Ferrer, Li Na and now Tommy Haas – all in their thirties – are at the top of the sport?

Because in tennis, age really is just a number.

Murray has acknowledged that in the past five years the "Big Four" (Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Federer) have all pushed each other to be better on and off the court. Each year the Big Four become fitter and stronger, and in turn, the rest of the field is forced to keep up. A 21-year-old in men’s tennis is just a boy trying to keep up with the men who have trained their mind and bodies to last.

But Tommy Haas is an outlier.

No 34-year-old, who has had multiple injuries and surgeries throughout his career, should be playing as well as Haas has been. Just last week in Miami, Haas upset Djokovic on his way to the Masters semifinal where he lost in three sets to Ferrer.

Serena Williiams is also an outlier. At 31-years-old, Serena just won her record sixth title in Miami. At this rate, she could easily play into her mid-thirties.

But some players, like soon to be 27-year-old Nadal, are not in the prime of their career. Nadal is an old 27-year-old and his body has been punished by the grueling ATP schedule year after year.

It’s a mix of both luck and art to stay mentally and physically healthy during the tennis season. Even if you’re a young, healthy, energized player who feels like they can play tournament after tournament with short breaks here and there, your body will pay for it sooner or later.

Sadly for tennis fans, Nadal and Federer have reached the stage in their careers where they skip tournaments and we don’t get to see them on the big stage as often as we used to. But in order for Federer, Nadal, Li Na and Serena to continue to play, they have to listen to their bodies and play less so that they can play longer – just like Haas.

So will we see 34-year-old Grand Slam winners? Not likely, but respect your tennis elders.

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