Age distribution of all Open Era major finalists

Discussion in 'General Pro Player Discussion' started by falstaff78, Feb 2, 2013.

  1. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Folks

    I have plotted below the age distribution of all the finalists of Majors and Season-Finales (i.e. TMC, WTF etc) in the Open Era.

    There have been 221 such finals since the 1968 French Open, (plus 2 season finales decided by round robin.) That gives us a grand total of 444 winners and runners-up. What you see in the chart below is the frequency of ages for each of these 444 appearances.

    So for example, 64 of the 444 appearances were by 25 year olds. (This chart counts repeat appearances by a player; so for example Ivan Lendl appears 28 times in the list at various ages - 19 times for his Major finals and 9 times for season-finale finals.)

    [​IMG]

    I’d love to hear what you guys make of the data. To me this chart is a great visual interpretation of the effect that age has on elite tennis players’ performances. It gives historical context to two questions which are frequently discussed on these boards, and which are important to me as a Federer fan.

    1. The extent to which Roger Federer’s abilities have declined since 2004-07.

    This question can already partially be answered by looking at his win percentages: 93-95% from 04-06, 88% in 07, 82-84% from 2008-11, and 86% in 2012).

    Strictly speaking, in order to conclude from these win-pcts that Federer’s powers have waned, we would need to be able to assess the strength of the field in 04-07 compared to 08-12. It is very challenging to objecively assess the relative strength of the field in two eras. (Beyond the hypothetical and, IMHO, perfectly reasonable assertion that the strength of the field doesn’t change rapidly over short periods of time.)

    What this chart does therefore, is allow us to triangulate Federer’s declining winning percentage with much broader, concrete and statistically significant evidence of the age when abilities decline. For example, the 4 peak performance years in the data are ages 22, 23, 24 & 25. For Federer this was the period from August 2003-August 2007 when he was at his destructive best. His results thereafter have stayed more or less true to the trend predicted by the data.

    2. The extent of the handicap Roger faces while competing against a 25 year old

    On the chart I have taken the liberty to highlight Roger’s current age (31) and also Andy and Novak’s current age (25). It’s clear to see that at 31 players have historically performed much poorer than when they were 25. So when Roger compiles a 6-6 record against Rafa, Murray and Nole in the last 12 months, the chart really puts this achievement into perspective.




    Few sundry notes:

    - You may have a concern that the distribution would be different for the 180 major winners, which is a more exclusive club than the 444 finalists of majors and season finales. So here is the age distribution for only for winners of the 180 Majors in the Open Era. The short answer is, nothing much changes.

    [​IMG]

    - You may also have a concern that the distribution may have changed over time. In a subsequent post I will share the age-distribution of major finalists by decade. Once again, the main message doesn't change. This histogram is very consistent across time.

    - Finally, you may have a concern that some players are early or late bloomers, and this data does not apply to them. There are some deviations from this trend in the data (e.g. Lendl, Agassi and Connors were on the late side while Becker and Wilander were on the early side - see chart below). However the large size of the original sample (n=444) suggests these guys are statistical outliers.

    [​IMG]


    Enjoy,
    Falstaff78
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
    #1
  2. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Here's the age distribution of the 360 major finalists in the Open Era, broken out by decade. (i) 68-79 (ii) 80-89 (iii) 90-99 (iv) 00-13

    Peak performance consistently remains in the early and mid twenties. What you will notice however is that teenage major finalists are almost exclusively a 1980s phenomenon. It's only happened 11 times, 7 of which were in the 1980s.

    The implication is that the lack of teenage major finalists is a reversion to default - not a trend towards uncharted territory!

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    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
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  3. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    And finally, here's the age distribution of finalists at the 4 majors.

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    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
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  4. Quite Please

    Quite Please Rookie

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    Great statistics, really shows you how big of an anomaly Agassi was during his last years.
     
    #4
  5. DropShotArtist

    DropShotArtist Banned

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    Yup I've pretty much said this all along. Biological age is pretty much an absolute. You can't fight it.
     
    #5
  6. tudwell

    tudwell Hall of Fame

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    Holy crap, who's the 37-year-old that won a major (or the year-end final)?
     
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  7. beernutz

    beernutz Hall of Fame

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    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
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  8. Phoenix1983

    Phoenix1983 Hall of Fame

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    Ken Rosewall (37 when winning the AO in 1972).

    He was also the finalist at W and the USO aged 39, in 1974.

    If you want to know more about him, ask BobbyOne in the former players section. :twisted:
     
    #8
  9. tudwell

    tudwell Hall of Fame

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    Ah, I should have known it was Rosewall. His last three slams were the three oldest in the Open Era!
     
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  10. mattennis

    mattennis Hall of Fame

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    Great stuff. Thank you so much!!
     
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  11. zagor

    zagor Talk Tennis Guru

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    Great thread, it is something most us fans knew of course but it's still nice to have it displayed in such format, might be an eye opener for some here (though I rather doubt it).
     
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  12. Cosmic_Colin

    Cosmic_Colin Professional

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    Interesting stats and nice analysis, thanks for taking the time to put it all together.

    I guess the question is:
    Is Federer an outlier because his level has continued into his 30s...

    or...

    has he followed the normal path of decline, but his mid-20s level was so high that he is still a slam contender.
     
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  13. kishnabe

    kishnabe G.O.A.T.

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    Brilliant use of Data. Can't wait to see him reach 2-3 finals next year to offset the 32 year old data.
     
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  14. zagor

    zagor Talk Tennis Guru

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    As far as I'm concerned it's not really a question, it's the 2nd option.

    That said, I'm a Fed fan so you can call me biased.
     
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  15. TMF

    TMF Talk Tennis Guru

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    If nadal wants to catch Roger, he better start playing and not wasting precious time.
     
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  16. tudwell

    tudwell Hall of Fame

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    Definitely the latter. Agassi was an outlier in that he won most of his slams aged 29 and older. Rosewall was an outlier just by his sheer longevity, winning slams consistently into his mid-late 30s! Federer has not proven to be an outlier as such (ignoring for now that his peak level of play was very much an outlier) and has declined at a pretty normal rate, it seems.
     
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  17. tudwell

    tudwell Hall of Fame

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    Is there any chance of getting the values in the first graph expressed as percentages of total Open Era slams? I think that would make it even easier to compare the likelihood/difficult of winning a slam at various ages.
     
    #17
  18. powerangle

    powerangle Legend

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    Thanks for the very interesting graphical presentation!
     
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  19. Cosmic_Colin

    Cosmic_Colin Professional

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    Someone can correct me if I'm wrong here, but I was trying to work out the probability of winning a final, once it has been reached.

    So there are 444 finalists, which means 222 winners, which means each of the winner bars should be half of the finalist bars.

    Finalists at 24-25 = 64 + 64
    Winners at 24-25 = 33 + 31
    (exactly half)

    Finalists at 31-32 = 8 + 2
    Winners at 31-32 = 4 + 1
    (exactly half)

    Because the counts of 31 & 32 year olds are so low that there aren't enough data points, here are the combined counts for 30+ year olds:

    Finalists at 31 & up = 24
    Winners at 31 & up = 10
    (just under half)

    So what I think this means is that if someone in their 30s reaches a slam final (particularly their early 30s) then they are just as likely to win as they would have been at a younger age - about 50%. Otherwise, we'd see fewer winners in comparison to finalists at that age; less than 50%.

    Does this mean that as players age, it isn't winning finals which is the challenge, but getting there?
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
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  20. NRod2

    NRod2 Rookie

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    Watching Federer gas vs. Murray supports this thread 100%.
     
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  21. Phoenix1983

    Phoenix1983 Hall of Fame

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    I think looking at the graph, the 'normal' age range is 17-31, with 24 being the mid- (and high) point. A number of greats i.e. Federer, Sampras, Connors are still good enough to win and reach slam finals at 31.

    Men reaching slam finals at 32 or older are very rare in the Open Era (in fact I think it's only Rosewall, Agassi and Gimeno).

    Thus if Federer continues to do so from now on, he can be considered one of the 'longevity greats' as well as the 'dominance GOAT'.
     
    #21
  22. TMF

    TMF Talk Tennis Guru

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    It would be nice to see the trend for the WTA too.
     
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  23. zam88

    zam88 Professional

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    Given that fitness and nutrition are reaching new levels that have never been seen before in tennis, and the lack of being able to compete much anymore at the highest level when under 21, would we expect to see more dominance between 23-30 rather than 20-27 like it used to be?

    I do realize DelPo and Djoker won titles when they were just 20, and that Nadal was winning titles as a teen....

    So... is it that we have a lack of ultra premium players in the pipeline right now? or should we expect the ages for title contenders to rise?

    I expect Djoker and Murray and Delpo to be winning titles for the next 3-4 years, with a Federer title in there somewhere and a Nadal French or 2.
     
    #23
  24. Goosehead

    Goosehead Hall of Fame

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    another older player winning stuff was laver in 1970 i think..

    at the age of 31/32 he won 5 masters/equivilent events which is tied with connors and djokovic with most in a season.

    it'd be like federer winning 5 masters THIS year :shock:
     
    #24
  25. travlerajm

    travlerajm Hall of Fame

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    Thanks for the contribution. Much appreciated.
     
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  26. THE FIGHTER

    THE FIGHTER Professional

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    great stuff!

    it would be awesome to have different charts that showed the stats for each decade. perhaps we can see a shift from when young guys were winning majors regularly in the 80s to when it's become an anomaly for anyone under 20 to win a slam after 2005.
     
    #26
  27. Polaris

    Polaris Hall of Fame

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    Thanks for putting your time into this Falstaff. Very nice work and mature description. This thread should be "stickied" and linked to, whenever unreasonable posters with half a dozen usernames barge into threads and disparage any given player based on cherry-picked examples which are actually statistical anomalies.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
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  28. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    thanks a lot!
     
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  29. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    you're welcome Matt!
     
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  30. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Hey Zagor - thanks for the kind words ! Means a lot
     
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  31. Prisoner of Birth

    Prisoner of Birth Banned

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    Great thread, one of the best I've seen. Basically reaffirms my stance that 22-26 is when most players have their primes. They generally hit their prime at around 22, with a fairly quick improvement, improve gradually till 25, drop fairly substantially at 26, and then continue to drop quickly. The fact that the graph is a progression till 25 and then drops is really telling. Shows you that it holds significance.
     
    #31
  32. sbengte

    sbengte Legend

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    Nice work , OP. Great thread to delve on some interesting data points.
    This reaffirms that the absolute physical peak for a player in general is around ages 24-25. The sharp decline around ages 26-27 is quite telling.

    Going by this, Fed's peak was roughly between 2005-2006 , Nadal's was around 2010-2011, Djokovic's (and Murray's) around 2011-2012. No surprise that these players had their best years and won the most around that time. No amount of inane arguments like Fed is playing better now than in his prime make any sense anyway, but this kind of data proves how absurd such talk really is. Fed's sharp decline was felt sometime around 2008 and it remains to be seen if the rest of the top 4 show the same pattern as they hit 26-27 years of age.

    What would also be interesting is to see this distribution by majors. I wonder if any of the majors shows a different trend from the rest.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
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  33. doobiedoodoo

    doobiedoodoo Rookie

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    Some Djokovic, Murray and Nadal fans will tell you 5-6 years makes no difference.......does this graph possibly suggest they are wrong??
     
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  34. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Hey Colin -

    Thanks for the kind words! By the way I spend about half the week in Cambridge - are you a student?

    Re: the discussion between you, Zagor and Tudwell.

    The data would suggest that Federer is an outlier due to the LEVEL of his performance and not the SHAPE of the age-results profile. We can see that Fed's best years occurred precisely when the data suggested they would - i.e. August 03 - August 07.

    The chart below disaggregates major victories by age for all 12 guys with >5 open era majors. Red highlights are late outliers, yellow highlights are early outliers. You can see the 5 important outliers to this trend in the entire open era.

    [​IMG]
     
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  35. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Thanks. I would certainly love that.... Eff the data!
     
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  36. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Here you go sir

    [​IMG]
     
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  37. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Strictly speaking the graph above is for majors AND season finales.
     
    #37
  38. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    You are very welcome!
     
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  39. ShoeShiner

    ShoeShiner Rookie

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    You should be a researcher. :)
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
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  40. SLD76

    SLD76 Legend

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    Facts and examples.

    cant beat it.
     
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  41. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Hey -

    Great analysis! You may be onto something....sample sizes for the over 30s are a little small but I think there's an effect. If I stop being lazy at some point I'll eventually take a look at confidence intervals to see if this effect is statistically significant. in the meanwhile I ran the numbers by decade - here they are.

    [​IMG]
     
    #41
  42. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    By the way numbers in above post are for MAJORS only! (all 180 of them since 1968 FO)
     
    #42
  43. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    you are welcome!
     
    #43
  44. Bursztyn

    Bursztyn New User

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    It looks like in the 1960 there were relatively more winners and runner-ups in 30+ age group as compared with 1980-2010 time period.


    One has to bear in mind however that the sample size was small for the 1960 because Open era started in 1968.
     
    #44
  45. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Here you go sir. Frequency of reaching MAJOR finals ONLY, lumped in (1) 68-79, (2) then 80-89, (3) then 90-99 and (4) then 00-13.

    I was a little surprised to see these numbers as I'm sure you will be. Essentially, reaching a major final as a teenager was a 1980s only phenomenon. It has happened 11 times in the open era - and 7 of those were in the 80s!

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    #45
  46. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Agreed. Essentially those numbers are driven entirely by Rosewall and Laver
     
    #46
  47. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Hey its a pleasure. It makes all the time worthwhile to receive comments such as these.

    For me its amazing, because after inflicting these insights on my long-suffering wife and disinterested friends, I have now found an entire legion of nuts like myself who actually care about stuff like this!
     
    #47
  48. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Thanks so much for your kind words - as I just said, makes investing the time well worthwhile.
     
    #48
  49. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    Hey Sbengte - thanks a lot for the kind words.

    Totally agree with your post - with one small exception - I think Murray will be a late bloomer. It's funny how history repeats itself - e.g. Nadal and Borg. I think Murray will end up falling more into the Lendl / Agassi mold where he will likely sneak out another 4-5 majors after turning 25.

    Anyway here is the analysis you requested.

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    #49
  50. falstaff78

    falstaff78 Professional

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    And here are season finales

    [​IMG]
     
    #50

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