This week’s newspapers are full of news of shock departures from Wimbledon tennis championships. The biggest losers of the 2014 tournament so far are Serena Willimas, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. They all have got knocked out roughly half-way through the tournament, to much disappointment of those who were hoping to watch some great tennis over the weekend.
I only play a little bit of tennis and my theoretical knowledge of the game is limited, so I am not going to offer any analysis of what went wrong and why each of these brilliant players lost their matches. There are plenty of well qualified people who have already covered this topic extensively and most likely many more will follow. It has occurred to me, though, that perhaps as much as these departures have shocked the tennis-watching nation, we should not be so surprised at them.
I looked back at the careers of a few great tennis players from the past and noticed that all of them retired from professional tennis at about similar ages, following either a decline in their performance or injuries.
To start with the ladies:
Steffi Graf retired from professional tennis in 1999, at the age of 30; Gabriela Sabatini withdrew in 1996, at only 26 years old; Justine Henin retired twice – in 2008 and then in 2011, at the age of 29, due to an elbow injury.
As for the men’s tennis champions:
John McEnroe was 33 when he retired in 1992. Boris Becker left professional tennis in 1999, at only 31 years old. Pete Sampras withdrew in 2003 at the age of 32.
How do the current ‘shock losers’ compare? Andy Murray is 27 and got knocked out by a 23 year old Grigor Dimitrow. Maria Sharapova, 27, lost to year younger Angelique Kerber.
Rafael Nadal, 28 years old, was beaten by a 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios, while Serena Wiliams, at 32, appeared unwell on the court and lost to Alizé Cornet, 8 years her junior. It looks like young age and stamina won over experience.
I am not suggesting that ‘this is it’ for the famous ‘drop-outs’. Afterall, Martina Navratilova announced her first retirement from tennis in 1994, at the age of 37, and returned to the game in 2000. At the age of 46, she became the oldest player to win at Wimbledon and retired for the second and final time 6 years later, at nearly 50 years old.
So what should we expect? We will have to wait and see. But there is a possibility that another era in professional tennis may be coming to an end and we will need to learn a host of completely new names.