This Wimbledon beauty will be ageless
Aug 19, 2019
This Financial Times chart paints the picture of the emerging trend in Wimbledon men’s tennis: the average age of players has been rising, and hits 30 years old for the first time ever in 2019.
The chart works brilliantly. Let's look at the design decisions that contributed to its success.
The chart contains a good amount of data and the presentation is carefully layered, with the layers nicely tied to some visual cues.
Readers are drawn immediately to the average line, which conveys the key statistical finding. The blue dot reinforces the key message, aided by the dotted line drawn at 30 years old. The single data label that shows a number also highlights the message.
Next, readers may notice the large font that is applied to selected players. This device draws attention to the human stories behind the dry data. Knowledgable fans may recall fondly when Borg, Becker and Chang burst onto the scene as teenagers.
Then, readers may pick up on the ticker-tape data that display the spread of ages of Wimbledon players in any given year. There is some shading involved, not clearly explained, but we surmise that it illustrates the range of ages of most of the contestants. In a sense, the range of probable ages and the average age tell the same story. The current trend of rising ages began around 2005.
Finally, a key data processing decision is disclosed in chart header and sub-header. The chart only plots the players who reached the fourth round (16). Like most decisions involved in data analysis, this choice has both desirable and undesirable effects. I like it because it thins out the data. The chart would have appeared more cluttered otherwise, in a negative way.
The removal of players eliminated in the early rounds limits the conclusion that one can draw from the chart. We are tempted to generalize the finding, saying that the average men’s player has increased in age – that was what I said in the first paragraph. Thinking about that for a second, I am not so sure the general statement is valid.
The overall field might have gone younger or not grown older, even as the older players assert their presence in the tournament. (This article provides side evidence that the conjecture might be true: the author looked at the average age of players in the top 100 ATP ranking versus top 1000, and learned that the average age of the top 1000 has barely shifted while the top 100 players have definitely grown older.)
So kudos to these reporters for writing a careful headline that stays true to the analysis.
I also found this video at FT that discussed the chart.
This chart about Wimbledon players hits the Trifecta. It has an interesting – to some, surprising – message (Q). It demonstrates thoughtful processing and analysis of the data (D). And the visual design fits well with its intended message (V). (For a comprehensive guide to the Trifecta Checkup, see here.)
My favorite part: the diagonal stairstep going down and left from Roger Federer's name. He's made the round of 16 or better 16 of the last 17 years, and he's been one year older each time.
Posted by: DanVK | Aug 19, 2019 at 03:11 PM
I find the dotted horizontal line somewhat confusing, as I would expect it to be the average of averages (which would be somewhere around age 26).
Posted by: LemmusLemmus | Aug 23, 2019 at 08:30 AM
What would be interesting is an investigation of the factors that have caused this. Presumably players have always managed to do some things better as they become more experienced and therefore older. Is there a way of measuring this? On the negative side they slow down and become more injury prone as they age. If this was measured I would guess that modern coaching techniques, training and medical advances are making it possible for players to maintain performance as they grow older.
Posted by: Ken | Sep 05, 2019 at 10:06 PM