March 28, 2013 by Parveer Mann
I know we all grow tired of reading those pieces that pop up on websites, newspapers or blog posts claiming that 40 is the new 30 or 50 is the new 40. However, I’m sure we all get that little kick of adrenaline daydreaming what it would be like if our birth certificates magically knocked of 10 years.
Well this week, we had one of those is it ‘2003’ moments when nearly 35 year old Tommy Haas knocked off world number one, Novak Djokovic at the Sony Open. If that wasn’t surprising enough, he responded by knocking of 11 seed, Gilles Simon to reach the semifinals. There he’ll take on another 30 something in David Ferrer and I would argue that match is a coin-flip right now.
Is 35 too old?
So why did I make the explicit point to mention Haas being nearly 35 because in professional tennis nearly nobody sticks around that long especially in singles. Even players who were around for decades like Martina Navratilova or Billie Jean King were mostly doubles or mixed doubles after they turned 35.
There have been pieces written of late about how that may be changing. The sheer number of early 30s players in the top 100 in both circuits would suggest that we may be close to a tennis circuit with players achieving Grand Slam type results well into their fourth decade.
For now, it is still a rarity and I thought I would point out my Top 3 players/performances by the 35 and over crowd since the Open Era (1968).
3. Kimiko Date-Krumm. At 42, Date-Krumm is still playing on the WTA tour and ranked among the top 100. She is nearly a decade older than the next oldest player (Venus Williams) and has an especially unique story. After turning pro in 1989, she had moderate success and reached the top 10 before deciding to retire in 1996 at the age of 26. Surprisingly, she returned to full time action in 2009 (12+ years later) and wound up winning her eighth WTA title in Seoul that year at the tender age of 39.
2. Jimmy Connors. The 1991 US Open run to the semifinals by Connors is part of American tennis folklore. Before losing to Jim Courier, he captivated the New York crowds showing how at 39 he still had some magical play left. I remember watching the CBS Sports feature commemorating the 20th anniversary of the run and it still left pundits and fans wondering how it all occurred.
1. Ken Rosewall. The Aussie began his playing career well before the Open era but still amazingly was in championship form in the early 1970s. He is the only men’s singles player in the Open era to win a Grand Slam after turning 35. Even accounting for weaker fields in the Australian Open those days due to travel, he won the 1970 US Open and the 1971 and 1972 Australian Opens at the age of 35, 36 and 37.
It will be interesting to see if the next decade or two will see someone equal or surpass Rosewall’s age and squash the belief that being around or over 35 makes you irrelevant at the highest level.
Any thoughts on who has a chance to be winning slams past 35? Serena? Roger?