TENNIS – CAN A BIG MAN BE “ELITE”?

Logic would dictate that being a very tall man (6’5 +) in professional tennis could have major advantages.

After all, longer legs bring longer strides; longer arms give a longer reach and the ability to generate more power on serve; and coming down on the ball at net is rather advantageous to a taller person.

But, while history suggests that height can be an advantage in some ways, analysis reveals that the average height of an elite men’s tennis player in the open era is actually only about 6’.

Sports Illustrated’s Top 10 Men’s Tennis Players of All Time list:

Rank

Player

Height

10

Lendl,   Ivan

6’2

9

McEnroe,   John

5’11

8

Tilden,   Bill

6’2

7

Agassi,   Andre

5’11

6

Gonzalez,   Pancho

6’2

5

Borg,   Bjorn

5’11

4

Nadal,   Rafael

6’1

3

Laver,   Rod

5’8

2

Sampras,   Pete

6’1

1

Federer,   Roger

6’1

Most of those players on the list may have been active at a time when tall players were not as common as today, but we can see that Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal are still currently active & yet able to continuously beat much taller men.

For example, Nadal’s head-to-head record vs. Juan Martin del Potro (7th ranked Spanish player and 6’6) is 8-3.   Roger Federer is 13-4 all-time vs. del Potro.

Americans Sam Querrey (6’6) & John Isner (6’10) and Croatian Ivo Karlovic (6’10) all have losing records against both Nadal & Federer.

So, does that mean players like World No. 16Milos Raonic (who is 6’5) will never be elite?  Not necessarily.  Well, Raonic does struggle against both Nadal (0-3) & Federer (0-4).

But, at this point in history, the stats do suggest that very tall men are not winning as much as their shorter counterparts in pro tennis.  In fact, 29 of the past 30 Grand Slam singles titles have been won by men 6’2 or shorter.

Digging further, Tennis Channel’s List of Top 100 Players of All-Time (“The List”) contains only one player 6’5 or taller. That person is Marat Safin, #80.  And, I would hardly put him in the category of elite because he won only 2 Grand Slams and 15 titles during the course of his 11 year career.

The only other very tall men’s players to win a Slam in the open era were Richard Krajicek (6’5 – Wimbledon 1996), Juan Martin del Potro (6’6 – US Open 2009), and Goran Ivanisevic (6’4 – Wimbledon 2001).

Thus, men in the range of 5’8 to 6’2 seem to have a better chance of success in men’s pro tennis, at least according to statistics.  Could it be that height range gives a player a more complete package of power plus agility around the court?

Commentator Patrick McEnroe reiterated during this year’s Australian Open broadcast: “Tennis is a running sport, and always will be.”

So, if footwork, speed, and agility are key to winning in the game of pro tennis, perhaps having a bigger body to move around slows the player down in comparison on the run.

In the end, very tall men have shown the ability to win big in tennis, if only in spurts.  The question is, can one rise up and dominate the field someday, enough to become “elite”?

Anything’s possible.  But, if one does, he’ll need all the other qualities that those on Sports Illustrated’s Top 10 Men’s Tennis Players of All Time list had:  talent, stamina, strength, balance, emotional health, confidence and tenacity.

 


Sources :

ATP World Tour - Head to Head: http://www.atpworldtour.com/Players/Head-To-Head.aspx?pId=F324&oId=I186
Tennis Channel Top 100: http://www.tennischannel.com/goat/71.aspx
Sports Illustrated Top 10 Men's Tennis Players: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/1009/top.ten.tennis/content.1.html

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