A sport dominated by veterans now has two 35-year-old champions. Both Roger Federer and Serena Williams defied all the odds to cinch their 18th and 23rd major title in Melbourne respectively.
This year’s champions padded their résumés as two of the greatest players in tennis history, and they set a wide scope of age-related records as well. Ms Williams was already the oldest woman to win a major title, a milestone she established at Wimbledon in 2015 and has since extended twice. Mr Federer is the oldest male grand-slam finalist since 1974, when 39-year-old Ken Rosewall was the runner-up at that year’s US Open. Unlike Mr Rosewall, who was trounced by a 22-year-old Jimmy Connors, Mr Federer defeated his younger rival.
The ageing of professional tennis is nothing new. The trend has been evident since at least 2012 when, for the first time, a full one-quarter of the men’s draw at Wimbledon was made up of 30-somethings. Aided by advances in sports medicine and racquet technology—which have permitted aggressive shot making without the physical wear-and-tear of the serve-and-volley style of yesteryear—the sport’s stars have continued to mature.
The conducive conditions meant that both champions’ style play assisted the hard hitting veterans, rather than the enduring younger champions, such as the liked of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. Ms Williams and Mr Federer are both aggressive players: the short points of first-strike, go-for-broke rallies are less reliant on the extreme physical fitness that has allowed Mr Nadal, along with Mr Murray and Novak Djokovic, to thrive.
Mr Federer, Mr Nadal, and the two Ms Williams have dominated not only their own era, but also the one that followed.But for the 20-somethings struggling to unseat their predecessors, the prospect of living up to such a high standard set by the generation before is a tall order.