The announced retirement of Andy Murray and the uncertainty around that, inevitable, Roger Federer came to remember the relatively advanced age of those who, again and again, reign over the world tennis. The seven Grand Slam winners still in business have all turned the corner in their thirties. And since the US Open 2016, the crowns are routinely picked up by players over 30 years.
The winning quartet: Roger Federer, 37, Rafael Nadal, 32, Novak Djokovic, 31, and Stan Wawrinka, 33. The Australian Open 2019 may well confirm the trend. Although all four experienced a major injury that took them off the track for several months, they were able to regain their physical and technical level. How to explain this longevity? What is the elixir of youth of the cadors of the yellow ball?
This question, former world number 1 Jim Courier asked frankly Roger Federer on the court after his victory in the second round. "As for the Australian Open, the recipe is quite simple, answered the Swiss. We come out of the off-season break, the period when we were able to regenerate and make a big block of physical preparation. We arrive on this first Grand Slam usually rested and ready. But then, when we advance in the season, we must prepare differently. […] At the Masters of the Year in London, for example, I avoided training on days when I did not have a match. I felt it was better for my body and my head too, to take a day off from the stadium with my family. I try to adjust my schedule so I can rest. It's a decisive balance between rest, training and family life. " To work, to train while finding pleasure and not wearing oneself mentally. It is indeed this subtle alchemy that allows Roger Federer to keep the distance and keep on talking to the peaks on the courts. To push back the limits of age.
Mind and body also mingle with Novak Djokovic who, for some years, indulges in meditation, eats gluten-free and practices yoga to fight against the effects of time passing.
Philosopher Rafael Nadal, whose bruised body regularly shrieks alarm, admits the need to adapt his daily athlete high level to his age. But the world number 2 does not want to go into details: "When I was 25, I did things differently than when I was 12 or 18. And now, at age 32, I approach things differently than I did four years ago. It's normal, we evolve and we adapt, it's like that in life in general, not just in sport. " The Spaniard has learned over time to agree to reduce his training doses.
Being attentive to his body is what Roger Federer, made aware from his adolescence by his physical trainer, Pierre Paganini, of the importance of an intelligent management of his calendar, adapted to the measured twenty years on the circuit. Just like his pre-match routine. "At my age, I need to warm up a bit more, to look after the details."
Cryotherapy, stretching, relaxation, nutrition ... the time seems to have made accessible the dream of eternal youth. "Everything has evolved. The way to prepare, the lifestyle, the nutrition ... The training and recovery methods have improved. Some have prepared their longevity for a long time, so all that makes it start to be a little more common to see thirties perform, Sam Sumyk, the coach of Garbiñe Muguruza. You can see that in basketball or American football with Tom Brady. There are more and more "old" people who stay at the highest level. It's a normal evolution. Players pay a lot of attention to their recovery and also plan their schedule better. "
Still number 1 in the world at age 33, André Agassi bowed out at 36, tired of recurring back pain. At the time, to last as long was an exception. "I invested myself to play until I was 36, says the American. Today, players are more aware of the need to listen to each other, they take better care of themselves, they evaluate their programming better, they train in a more nuanced way. "
For Agassi, age is even an advantage. "I'm convinced that if your body holds up, the years are in your favor. You raise your level of play with age. That's why they last longer and young people take longer to break through. " The young knock on the door, start winning titles in Masters 1000 but struggle to dislodge the old kings in Grand Slam. Until when ?