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Albert Ramos-Vinolas had his best year on tour last season, at the age of 28.

Why 30 Is The New 20 On The ATP World Tour

Former players and coaches explain how more players are having success later in their careers

The question has Albert Ramos-Vinolas stumped. Why, nine years after turned professional, is the 28 year old suddenly playing his best tennis?

He didn't switch coaches – Ramos-Vinolas, like Rafael Nadal, still works with his boyhood coach. Ramos-Vinolas didn't drastically change his style of tennis, either.

But there's no question his tennis has improved. In 2016, Ramos-Vinolas won his first title at the SkiStar Swedish Open in Bastad. The left-hander also reached his first hard-court final at the Chengdu Open and hiked to a career-high No. 26 in the Emirates ATP Rankings in October.

“I don't know why this year I had the better results. I cannot tell you one thing,” Ramos-Vinolas told ATPWorldTour.com last season. “Maybe experience but I don't know. I think I'm doing more or less the same from before. It's difficult to explain why now I'm playing better.”

Whatever the reason, the ATP World Tour veteran has company. In recent years, more and more players are finding their best tennis late in their careers. During the 2016 season, the average age of an ATP World Tour champion was almost 29. Ten years ago, it was 24. More proof: Last season, 14 titlists had already celebrated their 30th birthday. In 2006, exactly zero champions had turned the big 3-0.

The trend can be seen throughout the Top 100. In 2016, a record 39 players aged 30 and older finished in the Top 100. Of those 39 players, nearly a third of them – 12 – were tying or at their career-best year-end Emirates ATP Ranking.

“Being 31 now isn't like 31 10 years ago,” Brad Gilbert, a former Top 10 player and former coach of Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, told ATPWorldTour.com.

Gilbert labels the phenomenon “The Agassi Effect”. When the American reached the 2005 US Open final at the age of 35, Gilbert said, “All of a sudden guys were like, 'You know what? If you take care of yourself, you can do good work in your 30s.'”

In the past decade, players have learned how to take care of themselves better, and increased prize money has helped them add crucial members, including physiotherapists and trainers, to their teams. But current and former ATP World Tour champions say there's more to winning late in your career than simply taking better care of your body.

Big-match experience and more confidence helps players win more semi-final Saturday matches. Off the court, players learn how to manage their schedule during an 11-month season that's played on six different continents.

“The experience over the years, it does help being out there, being more relaxed,” said Aussie Mark Philippoussis, who won 11 ATP World Tour titles and reached No. 8 in the world.

Reaching Their Career-Best Year-Ending Emirates ATP Ranking In Their 30s

Player Age 2016 Year-End Ranking
Gael Monfils 30 years, 2 months 7
Pablo Cuevas 30 years, 10 months 22
Stan Wawrinka 31 years, 8 months 4*
Konstantin Kravchuk 31 years, 9 months 85
Dustin Brown 31 years, 11 months 72
Rogerio Dutra Silva 32 years, 9 months 98
Malek Jaziri 32 years, 10 months 58
Gilles Muller 33 years, 6 months 34
Nicolas Mahut 34 years, 10 months 39
Paolo Lorenzi 34 years, 11 months 40
Stephane Robert 36 years, 6 months 54
Ivo Karlovic 37 years, 9 months 20

*Tied career-best year-end Emirates ATP Ranking 

American James Blake won 10 ATP World Tour crowns, seven of which came after his 26th birthday. One of the biggest differences in Blake's game as he aged was his self-confidence during big moments, he said.

For example, at 5/6 in the third-set tie-break, the 20-year-old Blake might have tried something new to surprise his opponent. But the 26-year-old Blake knew better; he stuck with what had been working all matchlong.

“You know how to handle the pressure. You know your best game,” Blake said. “It's not that you're any more talented at that age, it's just that you've figured out how to get the most out of your talent.”

Older players also don't panic as quickly as less-experienced players, said Andy Roddick, a former World No. 1 and five-time ATP World Tour Masters 1000 champion.

Say someone plays a lights-out first set and wins 6-2 in 25 minutes. A tour newcomer across the net might be a little more impressionable and wide-eyed.

Whereas a more experienced opponent might sit back and think, “OK, let's take his best shot. Let's see if he can keep producing it for another hour and half,” Roddick said. “You learn to get hit in the chin... You're a little bit calmer in the face of adversity.”

Steve Johnson learned a version of that lesson last year during his first ATP World Tour title run. About two weeks before Johnson won the Nottingham crown, he had been hit in the chin by 18-year-old Stefan Kozlov 6-3, 6-4. Kozlov had won one prior ATP World Tour match before beating Johnson in 86 minutes.

But the 26-year-old Johnson didn't panic and start making changes in his game. He trotted out for his next match and upset then-No. 10 Richard Gasquet at The Queen's Club to earn his first Top 10 win and start a 20-7 stretch, which included the Nottingham title.

“I'm just much more calm now,” Johnson said weeks after upsetting Gasquet. “Tennis can change with one point really – the momentum can shift, that's all it's going to take. So I think it's something that I've learned... At least internally, I stay very calm and know that maybe even if I'm down and the guy is serving for the match, I know in my heart that I'm still going to find a way to get through this and find a way to win.”

30 and Older Champions In 2016

Player  Age When Won Title(s) Title(s)
Ivo Karlovic 37 years, 5 months; 37 years, 4 months

Los Cabos; Newport

Victor Estrella Burgos 35 years, 6 months Quito
Feliciano Lopez  34 years, 10 months Gstaad
Paolo Lorenzi  34 years, 7 months Kitzbuhel
Nicolas Mahut  34 years, 5 months 's-Hertogenbosch
Florian Mayer  32 years, 8 months Halle
Philipp Kohlschreiber  32 years, 6 months Munich
Fernando Verdasco  32 years, 5 months Bucharest
Juan Monaco  32 years, 12 days Houston
Stan Wawrinka 

31 years, 5 months; 31 years, 1 month;
30 years, 11 months; 30 years, 9 months

US Open; Geneva;
Dubai; Chennai
Tomas Berdych  31 years, 15 days Shenzhen
Nicolas Almagro 30 years, 8 months Estoril
Richard Gasquet  30 years, 4 months Antwerp
Pablo Cuevas  30 years, 1 month Sao Paulo; Rio de Janeiro

The American has also learned how to manage a season on tour. During his first couple of years, towards the latter half of the season, Johnson said he felt burnt out and exhausted. But last year, in August through October, he felt fresh.

“I really feel like I'm starting to really get the feel of it,” he said. “At the end of the year, there's a lot of big tournaments, where there's still a lot of points on the board. So to be fresh and to be healthy at those times is very important.”

All of these explanations together probably explain how Spain's Ramos-Vinolas had his best season last year. But his countryman Alex Corretja, a 17-time ATP World Tour titlist, has a few more reasons why Ramos-Vinolas turned his career around in 2016.

Corretja likely knows best, too. He worked with Ramos-Vinolas for a couple of months during the 2014 off-season. Most parts of Ramos-Vinolas' game have improved, Corretja said, including his serve, forehand and his movement.

But the left-hander has also matured, a common trait among ATP World Tour players who have success later in their careers. “He wasn’t controlling himself as much as he does now, and I think that’s why he feels like he’s a better player,” Corretja said.

It happens to a lot of players, Corretja said: They know what mistakes they're making, they stop repeating those mistakes, and the results follow.

“You’re a better man. You leave the kid behind you,” Corretja said. “It’s a privilege to be a tennis star on the ATP. You need time to realise that. Some of them, they realise that later in their careers. But it’s better late than never.”

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