TENNIS IN YOUR LATE 30s AND FINDING THE RIGHT TIME TO RETIRE


Among the many wonders to occur at Wimbledon this year was a first for this century.


Roger Federer disappeared from the ATP Rankings for the first time since his debut entry on September 22, 1997 at the completion of the 2022 Championships.


The 20-time grand slam winning champion, who turns 41 in early August, is recovering from knee surgery and hopeful of playing at the Laver Cup in London in late September.


The five-time season-ending World No. 1 also plans to return to the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 2023 but it is a stretch, given his age, to believe he will claim another major crown.


Federer will be almost five years older when he arrives at Wimbledon next year than Ken Rosewall was when, aged 37, he defeated Malcolm Anderson in straight sets to win the 1972 Australian Open.


Whenever the eight-time Wimbledon champion has been asked about retirement, he has pointed to his love of the game as the primary reason for continuing.


He is not alone in this. His great rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who love the game, are among the eight men aged 35 or older currently ranked inside the top 100.


American legend Serena Williams returned at Wimbledon and has signalled a determination to play a fuller than usual American hardcourt swing leading into the US Open in late August.

It is a delicate period in their careers and, despite the supernatural deeds of the four active players to win at least 20 grand slam singles titles, they remain as mortal as their peers.


At some stage, Father Time will catch them. But as every former athlete will attest, you are a long-time retired. Few would begrudge the very best continuing for as long as they are able.

Balancing the rigours of touring life with an ageing body requires commitment and hard work, while deciding on the perfect time to retire is far from easy, as Sam Stosur notes.


“Everyone knows it is coming to an end at some point and I think the last couple of years (I found it) pretty tough on the singles court,” she said.


“Experience, sometimes, is a great thing. But sometimes it can also be a bit to your detriment, because you know when you have been a top 10 player and done what you wanted to in the sport, you are always striving for that.


“In my case, I always wanted one more good win or (to play) one more good tournament, and you always keep pushing yourself to get there.


“It is really tough when you have played for so long and had some success, because you still love competing. But I think, eventually, when you come to that realisation and the time is right, you know.”


Richard Gasquet, a contemporary of Nadal and Djokovic, recently featured in the superb farewell reception his compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga received at Roland-Garros.


The 36-year-old, who dipped back to the Challenger circuit briefly this year to find fitness and form, said he will continue to play for as long as he is capable of competing at the top level.

But the former world No.7, who will also farewell his Davis Cup-winning teammate Gilles Simon at the end of this season, is mindful he is in the twilight years of a distinguished career.


“I love tennis. I still really like to play. I am very thankful and grateful to be able to play in these types of tournaments,” he told The First Serve at Wimbledon.


“Of course, I have to work lots harder now that I am at 36. It is a very hard age for a tennis player. But I am trying to play and I am absolutely motivated to play matches, to play my best, to play here and in Paris, for example. It is wonderful to do.”


The dual-Wimbledon semi-finalist said one of the challenges he was experiencing now was endurance. But the 2013 US Open semi finalist said he is finding it harder to sustain a run deep into a tournament than earlier in his career.


“I start to tire after two or three matches. It is not the same as before,” he said.


“Before I could play five or six matches in a week and not feel tired. Now it is not the same, but that is normal at 36. Life is different. But I do my best to play.


“There is no reason to stop yet. Of course, it will happen some time, but I am still enjoying it.”


Three-time grand slam winner Stan Wawrinka is another trying to find his best at a time when his body is betraying him more regularly due to his age.


In a recent piece for The Athletes Voice, the Swiss champion explained why he was determined to continue on despite considering retirement due to his creaking body.


“The road back had been so hard the first time that it felt almost impossible to do it again,” he said.


“But I quickly went back to positive thinking. My whole life has been about falling down and getting back up. I even have a tattoo about it.


“EVER TRIED. EVER FAILED. NO MATTER. TRY AGAIN. FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER.”


The 2014 Australian Open champion, who is 37, said that after surgery on his foot in 2021, his love for tennis and for practising gave him ample reason to continue on.


“I still believed I could play at a good level. I was not afraid of hard work,” he said.


“But the most important thing was that I did not want to finish my career being injured. That was not how I wanted to say goodbye.”


Wawrinka, who showed he could still be a force when splitting the first two sets with Jannik Sinner at Wimbledon, was subsequently forced to withdraw from a tournament in Gstaad.


But similarly to Gasquet, the consistency he was once accustomed to is becoming harder to attain.


“It’s been a long road back to recovery and I’m getting better every day,” he said.


“Even though I am happy with the progress, I know I’m still not where I want to be and where I need to be in order to compete and win consecutive matches at the highest level.


“I’m investing in myself and the process to try to get back to playing at the level I was playing before my injury. Next stop is the US swing.”


Nadal, despite his stunning success this season, is clearly showing signs of physical fragility.

The chronic-foot problem he has carried since he was a teenager flared again in Rome and, after his 14th success at Roland-Garros, he required more surgery to continue on.


At Wimbledon, an abdomen injury forced him to forfeit his semi-final against Nick Kyrgios, denying him the chance to continue his bid to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam.


The Spanish sensation has stated repeatedly in recent months that he is well aware his highly-decorated career could come to an end at any moment.


“I never had fear about that day (when retirement comes),” Nadal said at Wimbledon.


“I think I am happy that I have had a very happy life outside of tennis, even if tennis has been a very important part of my life for the last 30 years.


“I have a lot of things that I like to do away from tennis, so I am not worried about that. But, of course, when that day arrives, (it is) going to be a change.”


Stosur, who retired from singles after the Australian Open in summer, has good news for her peers as they contemplate life beyond the baselines that confine a tennis court.


The 2011 US Open champion, who partnered Matt Ebden to the mixed-doubles final at Wimbledon, says she is feeling far more capable of chasing her daughter Evie around now that her load on the court has halved. There is a blessing to being partly-retired.


“I said to my physio at Wimbledon … since I have not played singles, my back is so much better. I don’t go to bed or wake up in the morning feeling like I have a sore back,” she said.


“When you are in it every day (training and playing), you stop realising how crap you feel, because it becomes normal.


“Only playing doubles now … I am still training hard, but that load on court is different now and I feel so much better.


“When you do change your set up, you think, ‘Geez. I felt pretty crap for a long time.”