Vintage tennis: Wimbledon men's semi-finalists break age record
Federer, Berdych, Marin Čilić and Querrey are oldest group of players to reach last four since start of open era in 1968
Age is but a number – but one that is usually closely watched, and dreaded, in elite tennis. Yet this year’s Wimbledon has proved that older players can produce vintage tennis, with the men’s semi-finalists comprising the oldest group of players to reach the last four since the beginning of the open era in 1968.
A rejuvenated Roger Federer, who is playing as though he has discovered the secret elixir of life, is, at 35, the oldest man to reach a semi-final since Ken Rosewall in 1974.
At 37, Venus Williams is hoping to become the oldest women’s champion in the open era this year, but will first have to overcome Britain’s Johanna Konta, who is 11 years her junior. Williams is four years older than Martina Navratilova, who became the oldest women’s champion of modern times when she won in 1990.
The combination of Federer, 35, Tomáš Berdych, 31, Marin Čilić, 28, and Sam Querrey, 29, means the average age of the tournament’s male semi-finalists has increased to 31 years and 213 days, beating the existing record of 1970, when the average was 30 years and 319 days.
Federer, who is hoping to take a record eighth men’s singles title, has said there was a risk that older players remaining at the top of the sport was preventing a younger generation coming through.
“I came through the juniors with all these guys,” he said last week. “It’s nice to see them still hanging on, still enjoying the tour, making it difficult for the youngsters to break through.
“There is a bit of a clash right now – the young ones trying to push [us] out, especially the 35-plus guys. But then there’s a strong team around the generation of Rafa [Nadal] and Murray and Djokovic.”
Analysis by the Wall Street Journal found that the cohort of Andy Murray, 30, Nadal, 31, Federer, 35, Novak Djokovic, 30, and Stan Wawrinka, 32, have won all but two of 49 grand slam tournaments since June 2005.
A major reason behind the increasing longevity of tennis stars could be their increased earnings. While in previous decades a tennis player may have travelled on their own or with a coach, now the prize money is such that fitness advisers, nutritionists and physiotherapists can also come along for the ride. Players who went out in the first round of this year’s Wimbledon received £35,000 while the winners of the singles tournament will each take home a cool £2.2m.
After Federer’s near faultless three-set victory over Milos Raonic the Centre Court favourite said he was unsure of being “proud” of being the oldest man for more than 40 years in the semi-final. “I’m happy that I won today. But I don’t know if I’m happy to be the guy, you know, in 40 years. People talk more about my age because of numbers, of records like this,” he said. “I guess it’s great. Yeah, I’m happy.”
Murray, 30, suggested that age was a factor in his loss against Querrey on Wednesday. “As you get older, things are a little bit tougher to manage than they are when you’re younger,” he said after his match. “There’s a bit more wear and tear there.”
After Murray’s defeat the three-time former champion Boris Becker suggested that older players were getting better than ever, but warned the British player that he had to look after his body.
“Andy Murray’s defeat should not be seen as the beginning of the end of his chances of winning another grand slam. Absolutely not,” he said.
“I think what has happened so far this year has actually proved that, the older you get, the better you are – look at Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, what Serena Williams was doing and what Venus is doing now. They are all older than him. Age is only a number, but you only have one body. Andy has to look after his.”
Had Murray won it would have been the first time two British players had reached the men and women’s semi-final since 1967. Instead Konta, Britain’s top seeded woman, is the only player left to fly the flag – she plays Venus Williams on Centre Court.