When Do Tennis Players Retire?

Throughout the history of the sport, tennis has been pretty tough on aging athletes. Not only is the season very long, but it’s a physically demanding sport where the top players can play 80 or more matches. That all leads to relatively short careers, at least compared to many of the other major sports.

When Do Tennis Players Retire? Up until this current generation, most players retired before 30. But, Advances in training, technology, diet, and more have allowed tennis player to extend their prime. Top players are playing into their 30s, and some are approaching 40. The average retirement age for a tennis player today is 33-37.

Why Tennis Players Retires

There are plenty of factors that can affect why a tennis player chooses to retire. Everything from injuries, burnouts to that they can’t perform as well as they used to when they were younger. Before going more in-depth into that, here are 5 retirement age examples of top players that have retired in recent years.

PlayerActive YearsRetirement Age
David Ferrer2000-201937
Robin Soderling2001-201531
Tommy Haas1996-201839
Mardy Fish2000-201533
Nicolas Almagro2003-201933

The Physical Demands of Tennis

A tennis player must compete and perform well to maintain a high ranking throughout the year. That means even if a player wants to be #1 or #2, they can’t take off extended periods during the tennis season and expect to get a high seed in the major tournaments.

With just a small offseason in November and December, training year after year can put some heavy mileage on top players. Remember, most of these players also grinding throughout the year at the junior level, so they easily have a decade of experience or more playing a tough schedule before becoming a true professional player.

The majority of tennis matches throughout the year are held on hard courts. Not only that, but a good amount of players train on hard courts most of the time, and it can wear on a person’s body.

When looking at any other major sport, no one has to do the same amount of pounding every day on such a hard surface. This might not seem like that big of a deal at a young age, but it evolves into a problem once the body starts to break down.

Hand-eye coordination is also something that goes as player ages. Part of this is related to losing a step in quickness and not having proper preparation, but a miss-hit here and there in tennis will lead to a loss. Tennis players have to be very precise with every shot they hit, or they run the risk of getting blown off the court. The margin for error in a lot of other sports is a little bit bigger, so older players can get away with things.

Older players can also take a reduced role on a team if they are playing a team sport. In tennis, there is no such thing as a reduced role. If a player wants to make money and have success, they need to continually play every day.

Burning Out of Tennis

Grinding out a long, grueling schedule from a very young age can lead to burnout for a lot of players. Just about every top player in tennis has been playing like it has been a professional sport since a very early age.

Tennis is one sport where you don’t hear about a player breaking through after only dedicating themselves to the game for a couple of years. It’s a sport that requires precision with every shot, and that takes thousands and thousands of hours to perfect.

All of that playing can burn players out, even if they love the game. Not only that, but it puts a lot of mileage on a person’s body that makes it tough to keep up. Tennis is a solo sport, so a player can’t monitor their minutes as they can in a team sport to stay fresh.

If there is a match that has to be played, that person has to play the entire match to move on in the tournament. The more successful player is, the more matches they end up playing throughout the year because they are winning again and again.

A recent example that will be interesting to monitor is Coco Gauff from the United States. She made headlines during the summer of 2019 by putting together an amazing run at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She’s was just 15 years old, which is insanely young for any professional athlete.

Many are predicting that she will be a future Grand Slam winner and a true stand-out in the game. However, there are still no guarantees whatsoever. She is still growing and maturing, and so many things can go wrong for an athlete during that time. There’s also a chance of burning out and putting too many miles on the body. Nobody is rooting for something like that to happen, but it just goes to show how quickly things can change.

Current Players Breaking The Mold

On both the ATP and WTA tours, some of the top players in the world are over the age of 30. In fact, players such as Roger Federer, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams are in their late 30s, and they don’t seem to be slowing down that quickly. This is a huge change compared to players in the past, and on the men’s tour, in particular, guys 30 years old or older are dominating in a lot of ways.

Even players who are not necessarily competing for Grand Slam titles seem to be staying around on tour later into their careers. Former top 10 players with no Grand Slam titles such as Gael Monfils, Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and more seem to still enjoy the tennis grind, and the paychecks that go with being a great, but not top-tier professional tennis player. 

In previous generations, it was hard to find too many players in their 30s in the top 20. The rankings consisted of much younger players, fresh and eager to compete. Seeing teenagers, especially on the women’s tour, competing for and winning titles was the norm in the 1970s, 1980s, and even 1990s.

Fitness and Technology Making a Difference

Fitness is the biggest key to success at an older age. All the best players in the world have the shotmaking ability in their 30s to compete with anyone, but a significant drop in fitness can prevent a player from having a chance. Players are training at a very high level, and they are taking care of their bodies like they are machines.

The top players have trainers, nutritionists, recovery rooms, and more to lean on not only at home, but on tour as well. This is a huge advantage over players who are not making nearly as much money because they can’t afford to have a support team around them at all times.

Racquet technology also helps older players keep up in some ways. Even if a player loses a little bit of power, they can still do well with the right racquet set up. It’s all about pinpoint control as the player ages. A player can adapt to their reduced quickness or lack of power by changing the setup of their racquet.

If Federer used the same racquet now that he did when he first started his professional career, he would not stand a chance. Not only was it old technology, but the head size was very small by today’s standards. Once he lost a little athleticism, he was shanking balls way too much. After being somewhat reluctant in the beginning, he moved up in racquet head size, and now he is still competing for titles.

Will The Older Player Trend Continue?

Since the game of tennis relies so much on power and strategy these days, it seems like the trend of older players is here to stay. Younger players can get to any ball, and they usually have some of the best endurance out there. However, the game experience is necessary to win at the highest stage.

Young players have the skill to win titles, but there is the mental aspect of the game that is tough to overcome for some. Especially on the men’s side, winning three out of five sets in seven straight matches takes a lot of mental strength. With the current big three still competing at a high level, it takes a monumental effort to break through and knock them out.

If a player is everything at their disposal, there is no reason bad the best players won’t be able to stick around and compete at a high level for years to come. The same trend is being seen in other sports, so why won’t it continue in tennis?

Top players Retiring Before 30

The most famous example of a tennis player retiring at a very early age is Bjorn Borg when he was just 26 years old. He was still at the top of his game, and many people were shocked to see him walk away. He felt like he was burned out, and he no longer wanted to tour the world and play tennis.

In more recent times, that happened to top players like Marat Safin and Andy Roddick. Both players had some injury issues that also held them back a bit, but that starts to add up when you are playing so many matches every single year.

On the women’s side, Ana Ivanovic is one example of a player who decided to retire early after having some success early on. She is a Grand Slam champion and former number one player, but she wanted to focus on building a family and life after tennis.

Setting The New Standard

Until the current living legends call it quits, no one knows what the new retirement standard will be. If Serena and Federer play until they are 40 years old, the next greats will be motivated to stick around that long as well. That’s how it works in other sports, and even tennis in the past.

Tennis players are finding ways to beat the odds and stay healthy enough to play longer and longer. As long as the money is there and the hunger to win is strong, tennis players will put off retiring until their mid-30s at the earliest more often than not.

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