By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
There is no doubt that the mens game has grown more physical. But this
has not led to older athletes breaking down earlier and ceding territory
to the prodigies.
I think the main thing is that there is more depth in the game every
year, more good players, so the competition is tougher, said Jarkko
Nieminen of Finland, another 30-year-old who won on Tuesday. Over all,
players are in very good shape, and obviously for a young junior, it
takes a few years to build up the fitness.
Craig Boynton, a veteran coach who works with the American John Isner,
said it was highly unlikely that a ***ager would be able to win a
Grand Slam in the future as phenoms like Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander,
Michael Chang and Rafael Nadal had done.
Right now, what these older guys are doing is, if theres some weakness
in your game mentally or physically, it gets exposed, Boynton said.
And it just takes time to cover those holes in somebodys game. I would
be very surprised if someone young came through and had the moxie and
savvy to be able to compete with these older guys.
The older guys really own their shots for whatever reason, said Jay
Berger, a former top-10 player now involved in player development for
the United States Tennis Association. They are more skillful, and I
think also the technology of taking care of your body has improved.
Asked if Federer, now ranked third, was any slower at 30, Pierre
Paganini, his longtime fitness trainer, chuckled.
Im convinced that he has not lost a step, Paganini said. You also
cant forget that Roger has a quality of anticipation that is enormous.
In tennis, you dont only need to be fast. You need to run cleanly and
use speed intelligently, and Roger is very intelligent in this department.
But there does seem to be a limit to the fun. There was no mens player
older than 34 in this French Open, though Haas and 34-year-old Arnaud
Clment are both in the second round.
Its tougher to come up when you are really young, and I think its
very tough to stay when you are 35, Nieminen said. I do think there
will be some in this group who will be playing top 30 or 50 when they
are 35. If Roger stays healthy, for sure he will be top something when