Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: longevity

Should Roger Federer keep going?

461996002Roger Federer’s third round loss at the Australian Open will raise the usual questions about this late stage of his career. Should he call it quits now? Has his time passed?

It seems odd to be urging the world’s second best player (by ranking) to retire. The heart says keep on going. The head?

There have been only 11 men in the open era of tennis to win a major in their 30s. Only four (Laver, Rosewall, Connors and Agassi) have done it more than once. For Federer to join that band, he will have to defy not just age, but statistics.

As players enter the later stages of their career, the big wins dry up. So far, the biggest gap in terms of days from penultimate major to last is Arthur Ashe, who took nearly 2,000 days between his 1970 Australian Open and 1975 Wimbledon victory.

Ashe’s gap is something of an oddity. If we look past, Federer is next with nearly 900 days between his 2010 Australian Open and 2012 Wimbledon win. That’s ahead of Sampras (791 days) from Wimbledon 2000 to the US Open 2002. Even Agassi took over 700 days between his final two slam wins in Australia.

For Federer to win another, the gap would be at least 1,000 days by the time we get to the French or Wimbledon in the summer of 2015. Not impossible, but unlikely.

In terms of slams, Federer’s last gap of 10 events is already higher than the gaps Agassi (8) and Sampras (9) posted between penultimate and last wins. If Federer were to win a slam in 2015, it would be 11, 12 or 13 slam events since his last victory – a gap that looks less and less likely to be bridged.

In other words, recent history shows that it just won’t happen. Last hurrahs don’t happen twice – and Federer has already had his.

Gap in days between penultimate and last major titles
(men over 30 in open era)

Ashe 1985
Federer* 889
Sampras 791
Agassi 728
Newcombe 479
Connors 364
Rosewall 354
Laver 65

* For Federer to win another slam, at least 1,064 days will have elapsed.

The young centenarians – but is there still a limit on longevity?

Never has 100 years old looked so good. The two ladies (left) from Wales who are the world’s oldest living twins hardly look their age – certainly my grandmothers  were in similar nick in their 80s.

For comparison, below is a picture of my great (great) aunt Nell, at 103, holding me, age 9 weeks old, in 1975.

Nell looks extraordinarily old, which is fair enough, but the two Welsh twins look a good 20 years younger.

great aunt nell

Great Aunt Nell (103) and Rob (9 weeks)

So, if we are looking so much younger at 100, why aren’t we setting records? Why aren’t we seeing people live to 150? Our life expectancy rises inexorably. What’s going on past 100?

Here’s a list of living so-called “supercentenarians”, and the remarkable thing is that no-one on the list is over 115. Why? There’s no-one close to the oldest people ever, who were Jeanne Calment and Shigechiyo Izumi (disputed) who lived to over 120.

Scientists have been saying for a long time that medical advances could mean people living to 150. But it’s not going to happen for at least another 35 years, given the current crop. What’s gone wrong?

There are two possibilities, which is that either the diet and lifestyle of people born in around 1890 still isn’t a good enough basis for 150 years of life, or frankly, we just aren’t programmed to live that long. Are we even emotionally capable of living through that much history?

Whatever the reason, the ultimate outlier, the age of the oldest person alive, went up in the 80s and 90s, but is coming back to where it was in the 1950s. So much for progress.

Source: Wikipedia

UPDATE: The economist also looks at the rising number of centenarians in their chart blog, but fail to mention the paradox.

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