It’s been nine years since any male over the age of thirty has won a ‘Tennis Major’ in the singles category. The last man to do it, Andre Agassi, was thirty-two when he bagged the Australian Open in 2003. In fact, Agassi is one of only three male players in the last forty years to have taken home more than one individual Major after entering his thirties. Agassi won two – The Australian Open in 2001 and 2003).
Only two male players have lifted more singles Majors in their thirties. And neither of them is named Pete Sampras, the man considered by most tennis aficionados to be the greatest singles player to have ever held a tennis racket. Sampras won only one Major in his thirties – The 2002 US Open Championships, which we will come to a little later in this piece on tennis ‘oldies.’
The two players who did win more than one singles Major after they crossed into their thirties are Rod Lever and Ken Rosewall. Astoundingly, Rod Lever picked up his second Grand Slam (the act of winning four Major Championships in the same year) in his thirties. Perhaps even more astonishing is the fact that the oldest man to lift a singles Major, Ken Rosewall, won the Australian Open in 1972 at the ripe old age of 37; a record that is not likely to ever be broken. All this to say that there is still hope for Roger Federer. Or is there?
Federer bagged only one out of the four Majors in 2010 (The Australian Open.) Unfortunately for his fans, things didn’t get much better in 2011, a year in which the Swiss ace did not win any of the Majors. In fact, Federer has made it to the finals of only two out of the last ten Majors, winning one and losing one. It’s been nine Majors since Federer has gone the distance in any of them.
The last year Federer didn’t win any of the four Major titles was 2002. What’s more, he hasn’t even made it to the finals of the last four Majors. It might be pertinent to mention at this point in the piece that Federer turned 30 on 8 August 2011.
Of all the Majors, Wimbledon, in particular, hasn’t been kind to players in their thirties. The last man over thirty to snare a Wimbledon singles crown was Arthur Ashe; he was 31 years 11 months and 25 days when he won it way back in 1975. Federer will be 31 years and 11 months and 0 days if he does lift Wimbledon on 8 July 2012. Since he hasn’t made it past the quarters of the last two editions of the premier grass court tournament in the world, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Perhaps Federer’s best chance to win his first Major since turning thirty will come at the US Open. The last man over thirty to take home a US Open singles title is, possibly, the only one with a body of work more impressive than Federer’s and the man the Swiss maestro is most often compared with: Sampras. Those in a hurry to write off Federer would do well to bear in mind that Sampras, too, was in the middle of a poor run before he won his last Major.
In Wimbledon that year (2002), Sampras suffered an early exit, losing in the second round to the 145th ranked fast court specialist George Bastl of Switzerland. Coming into the US Open 2002, Sampras’s stock was so low that the eccentric Greg Rusedski, after losing to him in an attritional five-setter in the third round, famously said that Sampras was “a step and a half slower” and predicted that the great man wouldn’t make it past the next stage.
Sampras proceeded to convincingly defeat Tommy Haas in the fourth round (in four sets) and Andy Roddick in the quarters (in straight sets). He then dispatched Sjeng Schalken in the semi-finals (also in straight sets) and went on to conquer his legendary rival Agassi in the final in four sets to win his 14th Major and equal another rare plus-30 Majors winner Jimmy Connors’s record of five US Open singles championships. Clearly, it’s hazardous to write off all time greats like Sampras and Federer.
Another all time great who has had a relatively poor last 12 months and who many believe may be in the evening of his momentous career will be there to cheer Federer at Wimbledon 2012. Surely, Sachin Tendulkar and Federer have a last hurrah (or two) for their adoring fans before they call it a day. No? Yes.