Late bloomers in tennis

There seems to be many late bloomers in tennis at the moment - Li Na, Wawrinka, and Cibulkova. Is this just a phase? It was not that long ago that a career like Hingis seemed normal- at least on the women’s tour. As well as the late bloomers, the early bloomers are continuing on their late 20’s and 30’s - Roger, Rafa, Serena.

T I’ve always felt that if you weren’t elite by 20, it wasn’t gonna happen.

Hingis set a lot of records on the WTA tour, so I wouldn’t say she was typical, but she wasn’t the first very young player to have a lot of success. But in the '90s the WTA established some tougher age rules that were supposed to protect young players by limiting the number of events they could play when they were in their mid-teens, and that’s a factor. Pro tennis is also more physical than ever before. You have to be stronger and have more endurance, and that’s tougher for a younger player. When you’re younger you might get tired less easily and be more naturally resilient, but you don’t have the experience or familiarity with training techniques that are going to help you if you’re running around the court throughout a long match. And don’t forget that for the men, only in the majors do they play best-of-five. So for them that’s a different level of endurance than any other event. Then there’s the issue of men and women maturing at different ages. There have been a few teenage Grand Slam champions on the ATP Tour over the years, but it’s never been a regular thing.

I don’t think it makes sense to lump in Cibulkova (who’ll be 25 in May) with Wawrinka and Li, who are about to turn 29 and 31, respectively. Wawrinka and Li really are late bloomers. Wawrinka just couldn’t compete with the top guys, which he did in this tournament, and it took Li time to get a handle on her mental issues and get control of her career. I don’t know as much about Cibulkova, but it seems like she’s had a gradual rise over the last few years.

For the women, maybe. For men, no.