Victory linked to higher muscle mass
Strength and conditioning appears to be key to winning a modern day grand slam tournament, a new study into the changing shape of elite male tennis players, published in European Journal of Sport Science, has revealed.
The research, carried out by Professor Alan Nevill and Adam Watts from the University of Wolverhampton, shows that elite male tennis players in grand slam tournaments have transformed from lean endurance to power-trained athletes across the space of four decades.
Importantly there has been a significantly steeper rise in BMI (thought to reflect greater muscle mass) of the most successful grand slam tennis players compared with less successful players, meaning that muscularity, strength and power are a crucial factor associated with success in all modern Grand Slam tournaments.
Professor Nevill and Adam Watts examined data for the players qualifying for the first round of each of the four Grand Slam tournaments: the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open, over a period spanning four decades. They tracked the body shape of players to identify whether the relative shape and size characteristics of elite male tennis players have changed over time, and in addition whether any anthropometric parameters characterise the more successful players in Grand Slam tournaments.
The study revealed that BMI) has increased in a non-linear fashion from the early 1980s, growing at its fastest rate during the 1990s, and peaking in 2009/2010. At the same time, RPI (leanness/linearity) also declined from the early 1980s, with the steepest decline in the 1990s, “bottoming out” in 2009/2010.
It also found a significantly steeper rise in the BMI and decline in RPI of the more successful players (“winners”) – those progressing to round 3 and beyond – compared with players who went out in earlier rounds.
Professor Alan Nevill from the University of Wolverhampton, said:
“Our research shows that in the 1980s players more likely to be lean and linear, rather than muscular or bulky; these were endurance athletes who relied on skill – for example Bjorn Borg. These days, as observed in the example of Andy Murray, most elite players have fitness coaches and have become concerned with strength and conditioning to get through to final stages of grand slam tournaments.”
This is because high levels of muscle mass and low levels of body fat afford competitive advantage in terms of the ability to generate greater power behind shots, as well as the potential to generate greater speed and agility around the court."
Prior to this study there has been little data available relating to the change in anthropometric characteristics of elite tennis players over time.