An article from: La Gazzetta dello Sport
by Rino Tommasi
MELBOURNE. The defeat suffered at the Australian Open second round by Stefan Edberg, beaten by the Frenchman Jean-Philippe Fleurian, number 159 in the ranking who went through the qualifications, besides confirming the Swedish champion’s decline, suggests some personal considerations on today’s tennis. Edberg turns 30 tomorrow and evidently didn’t succeed in recovering after a five set marathon played and won the day before against Czech Jiri Novak.
Against Fleurian, Edberg lost the first set, then won the second and the third easily and went up a break (2-0) in the fourth before showing signs of fatigue and losing seven games in a row. He fought a lot in the fifth, he even had some chances, but was let down by serve and reflexes.
Out of 128 players taking part in the tournament, only seven have turned 30 and among these, at the moment I’m writing, only Fleurian, the winner on Edberg, and the Australian Mark Woodforde are still in the competition. The oldest, Swiss Jakob Hlasek, last November turned 31 years old. At the same age Jimmy Connors won the US Open in 1983.
The situation is even more remarkable on the women’s side. Among the players still in the draw, only five are over thirty and among them only Helena Sukova went past the first round, while the oldest was Pam Shriver who turned 33 on July 4th 1995. Among the women, the cases of over thirty Grand Slam champions are even more sensational.
Forgetting Helen Wills who won at Forest Hills in 1938 at the age of 33 and the Hungarian Suzy Kormoczy who won the Roland Garros in 1958 at 34, in recent years we find Martina Navratilova Wimbledon champion in 1990 at 33, while at 31 won Ann Jones in Wimbledon in 1969, Virginia Wade, always in Wimbledon in 1977, Chris Evert at the Roland Garros in 1986 and Billie Jean King at Forest Hills in 1975. Not to talk about Australian Margaret-Court Smith who, in 1973, aged 31, won three Grand Slam championships.
In short tennis is getting a younger and younger sport, as it’s proved by the presence in the draw of this tournament of 8 men and, most of all, 25 women under 20. The reasons for this rejuvenation are many and different. The first is that tennis is started to be played earlier. Nicola Pietrangeli, the best Italian tennis player ever, was still a second category player at the age of 18, Boris Becker won Wimbledon, Mats Wilander and Michael Chang the French Open at the age of 17.
Starting earlier, tennis players wear out earlier in terms of energies, of enthusiasm, of wish to travel, to fight, to suffer on the court and in the training sessions. The economic fulfilment sums up to the agonistic one. Mats Wilander said to me once: «I earned an amount of money I will never have the time to spend!».
Stefan Edberg shows sings of fatigue at the eve of his thirtieth birthday, but Bjorn Borg quit at 24, John McEnroe won his last Grand Slam tournament at 25, Boris Becker at 23.