Tennis champions have typically broken through in their late teens or early twenties. A lot has been made of the lack of teenagers in the top 50 and the success of players over thirty in recent years. The explanation, and it seems to be a sound one, is that tennis has become so physically demanding due to slower conditions and new string technologies that players need years to mature and train their way into elite level tennis. Stanislas Wawrinka reaching the US Open semifinal in 2013 and then winning the 2014 Australian Open at 28 years of age and then winning his first Masters 1000 event at 29 may be a template for future breakthroughs on tour.
Has Anything Like this Happened Before?
Patrick Rafter reached the 1997 French Open semifinal and then won the 1997 US Open at the age of 25. Rafter was a known commodity on tour prior to his 1997 leap forward. Rafter beat Pete Sampras at the 1993 Indianapolis Hard Courts. He was seeded at the 1995 Australian Open only to be blitzed by Andre Agassi in straight sets. Rafter was considered to be a great athlete, but his game had not produced top 10 let alone top 5 level results.
Wawrinka’s rise is somewhat similar to Rafter’s even if he was 3 years older than Rafter when he broke through. Wawrinka was considered to be a solid top 25 player for a number of years. Rafter’s leap forward was accompanied by an uptick in his service power. His shoulder generated a lot of his power and likely shortened his career. I am not sure what is behind Wawrinka’s rise. Stan does seem at home with hitting through the court and bullying his opponents. His second serve might be a bit heavier than it once was. He seems to be moving well. I am not sure any of this signals a clear break with what he used to do though. A lot of his rise seems to be related to his mindset and his willingness to fight. Magnus Norman helped Robin Soderling reach 2 Grand Slam finals. In this year of celebrity coaches, maybe Norman deserves a raise in pay and in profile. I am not sure what Wawrinka’s rise means or if it is a template for the future, but if players are breaking through later and staying competitive later into their careers, one can hope other guys in the locker room take heart and push forward.
Maybe I am sick but I can watch tennis pros practice all day