Want to win Wimbledon? Then never get married – a Sunderland academic’s advice to tennis players

love match: Dr Daniel Farrelly's study has shown the game of Roger Federer has diminished since he married in 2009.
love match: Dr Daniel Farrelly's study has shown the game of Roger Federer has diminished since he married in 2009.
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MARRIAGE spells doom and gloom for tennis stars hoping to hit the top of their game at Wimbledon, according to a Sunderland psychologist.

According to Dr Daniel Farrelly, from the University of Sunderland, male tennis players start to lose their competitive edge once they walk down the aisle.

Emotions have already been runing high in the tennis world thanks to David Nalbandian’s outburst at Queen’s final when he was disqualified for kicking a board in frustration and injuring a linesman.

Self-control may be one action tennis stars can work on to improve their game, but this may fall flat if they decide to get hitched, according to the findings of Dr Farrelly’s study.

The doctor’s work looked at the performances of the world’s top 100 players in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Singles Rakings at the end of each year from 1995 to 2005, whether they had married and in what year. Also, if they had become a father or had subsequently divorced.

Dr Farrelly found that players’ ranking points significantly decreased from the year before their marriage to the year after, while there was no such effect over time for the unmarried players of the same age.

From Andre Agassi, who dropped out of the top 100 from a No.1 Seed position after he married actress Brooke Shields, to Pete Sampras, who declared in 2001 that ‘enjoying married life has led to a decreased desire to win’.

More recently, Roger Federer married and became a father of twins in 2009, but has not won a major grand slam since 2010 and is now seeded at No.3 in the world after being No.1 for a few years.

Dr Farrelly, a senior lecturer in psychology at the university, says the reasons behind the change is due to the evolved psychological mechanism that leads such players to devote less time and effort to competition and more to married life, as well as varying testosterone levels.

He explained: “Cultural displays, such as art, science and sport, are proposed to be used by males to compete for potential mates. As a result, the desire to engage in such behaviours will diminish following marriage.

“Our study shows that professional male tennis players perform significantly worse in the year after their marriage compared to the year before, whereas there is no such effect for unmarried players of the same age.

“This explains the results: following marriage, males experience an evolved psychological mechanism that leads to less motivation to engage in intra-sexual competition. Fluctuating testosterone levels are considered as underlying biochemical changes necessary for such mechanisms.”

Evidence suggests that when a male’s mating strategy shifts from acquiring mates to maintaining them, their testosterone levels will drop.

David Boddy, racquets manager at the Virgin Active Wearside Health and Racquets Club, said: “I suppose there is a certain amount of contentment in your life when you get married.”

The tennis coach, married with a young son, said: “When you have a family there are other people to consider, so a player’s complete focus could be taken off tennis.”

However, he said this could be applied to any sportsman and there are those who perform just as well, or better, when they are married.

Dr Farrelly hopes to look at further studies in this area of male performance in other solo sports such as running, skiing and golf, exploring whether testosterone plays a part.

Twitter: @sunechoschools