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Does early success help or hinder later success?

It is often assumed that great success in youth will translate into the same success in later years. Though I couldn’t help noticing that Gael Monfils won 3 junior slam titles in a row yet at senior level the closest he has come to winning one is reaching the semi finals of Roland Garros. Huge success at junior level had no effect on later success. It may also have had the effect of stunting Monfils development by convincing him he was already good enough. Dulling the fire for continual growth that all champions need.

In the womens game I find the list of the most decorated grand slam champions that didn’t win a junior grandslam title include:

  • the Williams sisters
  • Steffi Graf
  • Monica Seles
  • Martina Navratilova
  • Billie Jean King
  • Margaret Court(nee Smith)
  • Chris Evert,

source: Grand slam womens champions.

In the mens game I see a less obvious trend but still find several legends who didn’t have the ultimate success at a young age.

I see:

  • Pete Sampras
  • Jimmy Connors
  • Rafael Nadal
  • Fred Perry
  • Andre Agassi

The men who won as boys include:

  • Rod Laver
  • Roy Emerson
  • Bjorn Borg
  • Ken Rosewall
  • Ivan Lendl
  • Roger Federer

List of Grand slam boys singles champions

Most Mens Grand Slam singles titles (5 or more)

My point is simply that success very young seems to have little or no impact on eventual success. Particularly on those who went on to achieve the most. The list of junior winners seems to reflect those who end up winning a few titles not scores. Nothing to be sniffed at but worth realising.

It is a fair to point out that the junior events at the grand slams were not always staged. The US Open in particularly only started hosting the junior event in the 70s, Wimbledon started in 1946, Roland Garros was 1946 for boys and1953 for girls. The Australian Open started their events way back in 1922 for boys and 1930 for girls.

This being the case maybe many of the greats just didn’t get the opportunity to compete. If they had the tables would be different. The message would not though. Simply put the list of junior greats still has no predictive value of the adult greats. There seem to be as many who were never heard of again or who never achieved these heights again as those who only achieved later on.

By focusing only on winners I haven’t also noted whether players simply didn’t compete in junior slam events or may have made finals, even multiple finals, yet lost.

The message doesn’t change though. As a coach looking to advise junior players and their parents and as a parent myself it’s nice to see that it is not essential in any way to achieve so much when you are young. Maturation is clearly as important in Grandslam success as it is in life. Pacing yourself is the route to multiple slam success in later life too.

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