The age profile of players on the ATP tour is undergoing a significant structural shift. It’s not yet clear how far we are through the shift but the data is clear: the men’s top 100 is older than ever before.
It would be wrong to think that this is because the younger generation is simply not as talented: the WTA is going through a parallel ageing process, closely mirroring that of the ATP.
Rather, the data strongly suggests that the ageing trend is the result of 3 broad structural changes in the game. The first of these changes has been unavoidable. Better fitness and conditioning in all sports has led to increased longevity. The other two changes are the result of human agency: there have been skewed increases in tournament prize money and changes in tournament seeding arrangements since 2001.
The upshot of these structural changes is that ageing on the ATP tour conceals a broader issue: that the ATP tour is structured in favour of the elite – those ranked in and around the top 32 (particularly those around 17 to 32); and the opportunity to break through on the tour is more dependent on financial means than before.
You can argue – and we should – about the relative weight of each of these trends; how they reinforce and support each other; and whether the overall effect is benign or otherwise. But that effect is not in doubt: unintentionally or otherwise, the elite of men’s professional tennis are protected at the expense of those trying to break through.
Analysis of this issue is in three parts: Part 1 tomorrow concerns the facts around the ageing of the men’s top 100; Part 2 (Saturday) analyses why this has happened; Part 3 (Sunday) sets an outlook for the tour and provides some recommendations for the ATP. You are free to disagree with the posts but most of this is data analysis: only the third part is an opinion piece.