31 or better: The oldest men's singles champions
Jul 27 5 min read7:01 am
Tennis is a game which requires a great deal of physical strength. Players on tour face a gruelling schedule, with tournaments spread across several countries with little time in between to recover from their hours spent battling it out on court each week. All these factors play a key role in determining the lifespan of a tennis player’s career.
When a player becomes a tricenarian, they become more wary of their body, focusing more on movement and at times may even change their gameplay depending on their body’s limitations. Yet, there have been players in the past who have defied all odds and justified themselves as legends by competing at a high level well into their 30’s.
CLUB 31: ROD LAVER, ARTHUR ASHE, JIMMY CONNORS, PETE SAMPRAS, STAN WAWRINKA
Rod Laver’s 1969 victory at the US Open made him the only man in the Open Era to complete the calendar grand slam. Arthur Ashe was the defending champion but he lost in the semi-finals to Laver. This was Laver’s last grand slam title which came at the age of 31.
"The next point - that’s all you must think about." - Rod Laver
Arthur Ashe was a former World No. 1 who won three grand slam titles. In 1975, at his ninth attempt, aged 31, Ashe lifted his first Wimbledon title. He defeated heavy favorite Jimmy Connors in the process. Ashe retired at the age of 36 with a staggering record of 818 wins, which helped him bag 51 titles.
"The ideal attitude is to be physically loose and mentally tight." - Arthur Ashe
Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl met each other for the second consecutive year at the US Open finals in 1983. Connors, who was the defending champion was aged 31. After four sets, Connors won the title which was also his 100th tour level title. He holds a record 109 tour-level titles to his name.
At 31, Pete Sampras had announced that the 2002 US Open would be his last grand slam tournament. Seeded 17th, Sampras defeated Greg Rusedski, Tommy Haas, Andy Roddick, Sjeng Schalken and Andre Agassi to win his 14th grand slam title, which at the time was the record for most majors by any player in the Open Era.
"I never wanted to be the great guy or the colorful guy or the interesting guy. I wanted to be the guy who won titles." - Pete Sampras
Stanislas Wawrinka was into the finals of a grand slam for the third time and in a third consecutive year in 2016. At Flushing Meadows, the Swiss was yet again up against a World No. 1 player like his previous two slam finals which he won. He defeated Novak Djokovic after losing the first set. Wawrinka was aged 31 years when he won his third grand slam title.
Duo 32: ANDRE AGASSI & RAFAEL NADAL
Andre Agassi won eight grand slams in his stellar career. He was often regarded as the best returner in the game and was notable for his deep groundstrokes. The American’s last slam came at the 2003 Australian Open at the age of 32 years. He was termed as “The Punisher” for his offensive style of play. Agassi’s eye-hand coordination is often praised amongst tennis pundits and is considered as the player with one of the best reflexes. After suffering from sciatica, a vertebral displacement and a bone spur that interfered with a nerve, Agassi was forced to quit tennis in 2006. One of the greatest ambassadors of the game, Agassi was one of the examples of a player that knew the art of endurance.
"What makes something special is not just what you have to gain, but what you feel there is to lose." - Andre Agassi
Rafael Nadal won his 11th French Open title in 2018 at the age of 32. The World No. 1 added a 79th tour level title to his cabinet with his Roland Garros triumph. The Spaniard is still hitting the ball with enough brawn and his legs are fit enough to aid him in winning more titles in the future.
Roger Federer claimed his 20th grand slam title aged 36 years at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships. He became the second oldest player to win a grand slam in the Open Era and also the second oldest person to win the Australian Open. Earlier in the year, Federer won his 19th slam by defending his Australian Open title.
Andres Gimeno was a one-time slam winner and he made sure he made his mark in a unique fashion while winning it. He became the oldest person to ever lift the Roland Garros title. He was 34 years old when he achieved this accolade. The following year he injured his meniscus and decided to quit tennis.
In 1956, Ken Rosewall came to the tennis scene and lasted till 1980. Over the course of these 24 years, he won 23 major titles. The majority of them were won before the Open era began. Nevertheless, Rosewall’s endurance and resilience were a standout feature of his career. A genius at the net, Rosewall was the oldest player to capture the Australian and US Open. At 35, he won his second US Open title. At 37, he successfully defended his Australian Open triumph to record a fourth title at his home slam. Rosewall is also the second oldest man to win the French Open at the age of 33. He was naturally left-handed, but was trained by his father as a right-handed player. Thus, he could produce a wide range of shots with the sliced backhand being his strongest weapon.
"Rosewall was a backcourt player when he came into the pros, but he learned very quickly how to play the net. Eventually, for that matter, he became a master of it, as much out of physical preservation as for any other reason. I guarantee you that Kenny wouldn’t have lasted into his forties as a world-class player if he hadn’t learned to serve and volley." - Jack Kramer