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Beyond the Baseline

Roger Federer puzzled by lack of teen success on ATP Tour

(Mark J. Terrill/AP) Roger Federer wonders if potential tennis stars are choosing to play other sports as teenagers. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Tennis has turned into a veteran's game in recent years, and Roger Federer has no answers as to why.

No teenagers are in the ATP Tour's top 100, and it may be some time before that statistic changes. The highest-ranked teen is 18-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios (you may remember his second-round match against Benoit Paire at the Australian Open), who tops out at No. 226. Compare that to Federer's generation, which placed a number of teens in the top 100 -- including Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian and Federer himself -- and the drop-off is hard to ignore.

"We need a podium talk here about why that is the case," Federer said during his pre-tournament news conference at the BNP Paribas Open. "[Rafael Nadal] is maybe the best teenager we've ever had, with Bjorn Borg, in the game, and now we don't have anyone anymore. So how can that happen in such a short period of time? And it's not like when Rafa came about it was totally different. So maybe it's a lack of quality to some degree. Maybe more kids are also playing other sports so we might lose some really great talents to other sports."

Federer also raised a point about the ATP's points system, which heavily favors winners.

"Maybe it's just difficult to make points by making quarters and semis of tournaments because it feels like if you want to make a great jump in the rankings you have to win the tournament," he said. "That is, for a youngster, really hard to do. So maybe that needs to be a slight adjustment.

"But also I think the slower conditions, guys are playing better when they're older from 26 on to 32. Guys are in unbelievable shape. These guys are not being pushed out of the game very quickly. So they make it difficult for teenagers to come through."

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Despite the lack of teen success, Federer believes the tour's depth is as great as it's ever been.

"There are more professional players at a high level," he said. "Guys ranked 500 and lower are touring basically the entire year. That's not something that existed at this level like it is now. There are more tournaments at any level, with the Futures and Challengers and ATP, so it's encouraging to see that."

Federer, who had a first-round bye here, will play Paul Henri-Mathieu in the second round Saturday. Full of confidence after winning the Dubai Championships last week for his first title in eight months, Federer is most pleased about his health, which he blames for his 2013 slump.

"I'm just happy to see the hard work is paying off and that maybe the decisions I took midway through last year were the right ones," he said. "Because I am playing nicely now and better and pain free for a long period of time, which is the goal. To have it for three and four months now where it's solid, it just feels great."

Federer beat No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the Dubai semifinals, snapping a three-match losing streak to the Serb. It was an important victory for Federer, but he shrugged off any suggestion that it was bigger than winning the trophy, which he hoisted after defeating Tomas Berdych in the final.

"Of course it's nice beating Novak and all that, but for me it stands out to win a tournament and hold a trophy in my hands," he said, before playfully adding, "I'm not holding Novak up, you know? It's nice to do it again, but it's really the trophy that I care about the most."

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