Difference between athletic prime and competitive prime


According to the Oxford Englsih Dictionary both "peak" and "prime" are synonymous:
Prime: The state or time of greatest vigour or success in a person's life. Of the best possible quality; excellent.
Peak: The point of highest activity, quality, or achievement.

So I will employ prime/peak interchangeably. There must be a distinction between athletic prime and competetive prime though. Athletic prime refers exclusively to the physical prime, even if the skills of the game have not yet been mastered. The competitive prime refers to the point where a player is statistically better/has better results, even if he has lost some of his athleticism. It is possible to compensate the physical decline with technical improvements for some time. For instance, Nadal is playing more aggresively to compensate his decay in speed. And Federer's backhand was better than ever in 2017, despite his obvious decline in speed.

In other sports, we see how Michael Jordan was in his competitive prime in his early 30s. LeBron James' best regular season statistically was 2017/2018 at age 33. James Harden is now having the best season of his career at age 29. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 48 goals in La Liga (his personal record) at age 30, in his 2014/2015 season.

Federer's athletic prime: 2001-2009.
Federer's competitive prime: 2004-2017 (early 2008, 2013 and 2016 being an exception).

Nadal's athletic prime: 2005-2013.
Nadal's competitive prime: 2006-present on clay and grass, 2008-present in all surfaces (2015 and 2016 being an exception).

Djokovic's athletic prime: 2007-2015.
Djokovic's competitive prime: second half of 2010-present (2017 and first half of 2018 being an exception).
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Service Ace

Hall of Fame
Your prime does not last 10 plus years in sports. That's essentially an athlete's entire career. So to say these guys "competitive prime" is from 2004-2017 is a complete misunderstanding of the definition of the word.


Hall of Fame
I don't see much difference between "athletic prime" and "competitive prime." Based on the evidence you have presented, there's too much overlap for there to be a meaningful distinction.

I think prime is a wrongfully applied concept. No one really knows what it is. When was Wawrinka in his prime? When he was 23, young and full of vigour? Or when he was 30 and winning his majors? "Prime" is whenever a player generally receives their best results. So Wawrinka was in his prime in his late 20s/early 30s. Prime shouldn't be reduced to a predictable, set chronological period because players reach their optimum levels at different times.

Lew II

Timespan between first and last 2/3 slam won streak:

Federer WI03-AO18
Nadal AO08-RG18
Djokovic AO11-WI18

They may have had ups and downs but this is basically their prime IMO, they were not too young/old to win multiple slams.

Slams won in the prime of the other two:

Djokovic 12
Nadal 7
Federer 4


Hall of Fame
Athletic prime is not all that useful. Competitive prime is what matters. And I view peak and prime differently, peak being the highest level.

For what it's worth

Federer - Peak - TMC 2003 - AO07, Prime TMC 2003 - AO10, honorary mention to USO11 - Cincy 12
Nadal - Peak - Monte Carlo 08 - Madrid 09, IW 2010 - WTF 2010, IW 2013 - AO14, Prime IW 2007 - AO14
Djokovic - Peak AO11 - USO11, Beijing 2014 - RG16, Prime AO11 - WTF 2016, honorary mention to AO08 - WTF 08

Of course, this is highly subjective. It's especially difficult for Nadal who has seemingly different primes for each surface which I've not outlined above.

I also see the argument of people who have much longer primes, for instance, Fed 2003-12 or Novak 2007-16. I just personally see it as I've outlined above
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Prime was raised 25 basis points on December 19th. I'm eating a prime steak tonight for dinner. I hope this primes the pump for more conversation.


This is completely subjective. But I'll take a stab at it, based on my own observation.

Federer: late-2003 until early 2007.
Nadal: 2006-2010
Djokovic: 2011-2015

Fed's short peak might cost him dearly. This is a mark against him. He's currently the gold standard. But he might be eclipsed. Time will tell.

Nadal's speed declined after 2010. His serves fell off of a cliff in 2011. I read that the coach that Nadal hired in 2010; the one that had him bombing serves in the 130's, quit in 2011. I want to learn more about that story. By 2012, Nadal's foot speed had declined enough where low-ranked players could bump him from Wimbledon. Young Nadal was unbelievable to watch at Wimbledon. I never knew that a player could run down Fed's shots on grass until Nadal showed up. Nadal from 2006-2010 was deadly on grass. He's still a threat. But he was deadly during the last half of the last decade. Injuries have robbed Nadal a ton. But Nadal is still solidly in the slam race. I would see Nadal winning two more FO titles while sneaking another Wimbledon or USO title in there. 20 seems realistic for this guy.

Djoker is aging the best so far. His 2018 season was insane. I cannot believe that he pulled this off at his age. Djoker's lightweight frame and insane dedication to training make him a great candidate to age better than anybody ever has. The all-important slam race isn't over for this guy either.