I love Roger Federer’s game and this was a sad day to see him finally retire today. I had hoped he could get back healthy and go out on his own terms like he and the fans deserved one more time at the majors. After reading last week that his knee was still swelling I kind of knew the end was really near this time.
I remember distinctly buying this tennis video game in early 2011. It was a great game, I had many fun hours playing and rising in the rankings. I remember at the time getting to about my 5th year of the games career mode and thinking Roger Federer will be like 35 years old and Nadal and Djokovic will all be about 30 now. How are they still ranked 1,2, and 3 in the game? I actually remember being a little disappointed with the game because it didn’t feel realistic. Where are the new guys coming to take their spots in the rankings? There was no way at the time I thought they would still be dominating tennis in 2016-2020 like they continued to on Top Spin 4 a decade on.
At the time I had no concept really that players could still be THAT good at 35 years old. Sure, I watched Jimmy Connors’s US Open run as a kid but most of the players I watched were done by 30. Either washed up or they had walked away like Sampras by that point, and even he was fading to about 20th in the world before he walked away after a win at the US Open like a boss. Agassi was the outlier to all that, but I always felt like that was more from not taking the sport seriously for so many years and missing so much tennis that he had some drive and less wear on the tires saved up.
The Big 3 all still around motivated and playing at that level? This was different in my mind, but I was completely wrong. (I wasn’t the only one BTW Link) Not only were they still 1,2,3 in that period but they would still be 1,2,3 as recently as February 2020. Even as recently as October 2021 they were all in the Top 9. Absolutely incredible. The video game was right.
Tennis has certainly treated the older players more kindly in this era. After all, we are only a few years removed from players who never even reached the top 10 like Ivo Karlovic and Feliciano Lopez winning titles at 37 years old and becoming 2 of the oldest men in the modern era with All Time Greats like Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer. They both are still ranked today at 43 and 41 respectively. Lopez just had his all-time record streak of consecutive majors snapped earlier this year.
Roger Federer essentially blew up all the age records before his knee gave out on him, forcing his retirement. Federer, of course, won his last three majors at 35+ years old which was previously unheard of since the 70’s & 80’s when modern rackets changed so much. Even in 2021 a month from his 40th birthday he was still in a Wimbledon Quarter Final even after barely playing for a year.
As recently as June 2019 this is what the ATP Rankings looked like and their ages
#1 Djokovic 32
#2 Nadal 33
#3 Fed 37
#8 Anderson 33
#10 Fogini 32
#12 Isner 34
#15 Monfils 32
#19 Wawrinka 34
#24 Simon 34
Could anyone have honestly imagined in 2002 when Sampras was walking away at 31 years old that nearly half of the top 20 would be made up of players 32+ nearly two decades later? That was the same week two 37 years olds won on tour in Lopez and Federer. Victor Estrella Burgos who is an interesting story himself had just won a title in 2017 at the age of 36 to become the 5th oldest man in the modern era. Estrella Burgos was a player that didn’t even crack the Top 100 until he was 34 years old and was the oldest first-time tour winner ever that same year.
Estrella Burgos was an incredibly late bloomer for sure, but something about this era allowed this in my opinion. It wasn’t just the Big 3 that were still winning. There really was a missing generation of players to step up and challenge them and backfill of talent just as was the case in the Top Spin 4 With Roger his retirement official now and many of these players finally showing their age it does feel like the new guard of tennis is finally coming between Medvedev, Ruud, and Alcaraz. It’s really now only a matter of time to see how long Nadal and Djokovic still can hang on and if they perhaps can set their own records. Time catches us all for sure, but hopefully, their bodies don’t give out on them first and we can see how they can do into their late 30’s.
That doesn’t mean some other geriatrics of tennis aren’t still out there playing. John Isner is the best non big 3 left playing, currently ranked 42nd at the age of 37. His height and serve will likely allow him to be a tour player as many years as Karlovic if not more considering he was a better player. Monfils is still 32nd in the world at 36 years old. Given the excess athletic ability he had to spare, he might still be one of the most athletic players on tour even at 40 if he still wants to play.
Fernando Verdasco is probably the best 38+ year old still playing currently ranked 115th. He just played in the US Open a couple of months from his 39th birthday which is a pretty nice accomplishment. Lopez of course who had his record streak of grand slams snaped in the French did play in Wimbledon at the age of 40. Karlovic recently retired but was still in the Top 200 as recently as last summer at the age of 42 when he played in his last US Open.
This doesn’t even account for the women and what the Williams sisters were able to do into their late 30s. Serena barely played this year and took out the #2 player in the world in the US Open a month before her 41st birthday.
Yes, I was wrong and I underestimated greatness. See ya, Roger and Serena it’s been a pleasure.