A couple of days after New Year in 1972, Ken Rosewall won the Australian Open on the lawns of the old Kooyong courts in Melbourne. It was an upset, of sorts. A crowd of 13,000 had come to watch and the feeling was that Rosewall’s opponent and fellow Aussie, Mal Anderson, would probably carry the day.
Not so. Rosewall, the defending champion, turned up to the court just 30 minutes before the start of the match, having been stuck in traffic; despite a near-total lack of warm-up time, he sailed through the match, putting Anderson to bed 7-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Rosewall completed his fourth Grand Slam victory of the Open era — to sit along another four from his amateur days and an absolute hatful from his time on the Pro Slam circuit. It was, as it turned out, his last big win, though he played on until 1978, leaving the game as he is remembered today: as one of the best men to hold a racquet.
Looking back, Rosewall’s career was a weird and wonderful thing, awkwardly straddling as it did the transition from amateur to Open tennis. But the 1972 Australian Open Final was especially odd, not least because the combined age of the two men contesting the title was 73: Anderson was 36 and Rosewall 37.
“It is the first time,” sniffed one American journalist, “that such aged players will meet in the final of a major national tournament and a reflection on the standard of tennis Down Under.”
Be that as it may. In winning the title, Rosewall left a mark on the record books which has yet to be overwritten, for he became the oldest man ever to win an Open Grand Slam singles title. Today, 45 and a half years later, no one has caught him. And, indeed, for all that we talk now about the current ageing generation in men’s tennis, as a group they have some way to go.
Yesterday, Andy Murray turned 30. The previous day, his rough-contemporary Rafael Nadal won the Madrid Open; by the time the French Open is through, on June 11, the Spaniard will be 31. Novak Djokovic, the world No2, will be 30 next Monday. Stan Wawrinka is 32. And Roger Federer — the Rosewall of the bunch — is positively ripe at 35.
They are all getting on a bit. Yet to break Rosewall’s record for Grand Slam victory in advancing dotage, Federer will have to win the 2019 Australian Open. The rest will be looking at the tournaments of the mid-2020s. That is the measure of the task and it will be impressive if they pull it off.
Tennis players today are fitter and more finely tuned than at any time in the past, and while that has driven the standard of the game to heights that are at times ridiculous, a career of 15 years is about as sapping a sporting pursuit as you can imagine.
Federer’s rebirth this year has only been possible by limiting the competitions he enters. The only clay event he was to play in was the French Open, starting on Monday, but yesterday he pulled out to concentrate on Wimbledon and the US Open.
Murray and Djokovic are both looking distinctly hungover after their extraordinary tussle for supremacy last year. After winning in Madrid, Nadal is the hot pick for a 10th Roland Garros title, but for all his resurgent genius this season it is hard to see him surging on for another six or seven years at the top.
And yet. How many times have the big four — or five, since we should include Wawrinka now — been written off? Since the spring of 2005, only Marin Cilic and Juan Martin Del Potro have broken their five-way grip on the Majors. A generation of players in their twenties — think Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic — have all, so far, failed to cut through.
The next big thing, supposedly, is Dominic Thiem, the 23-year-old beaten by Nadal in Madrid. Can he sweep aside the old guard? I wouldn’t bet on it. Rosewall’s record may not be in imminent danger but it feels like tennis will remain an old boys’ club for a while yet.
Slow down, Sarries!
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Farrell and Vunipola set out template for Lions success in Sarries win
Congratulations Saracens on a seriously impressive European Champions Cup win on Saturday, and a pox on anyone who tries to argue the fact that they are the great club of their time. Despite their exertions they must now be favourites to add another Premiership title to their haul over the next two weekends. But hold a bit back for New Zealand will you, lads? The Lions are going to need every scrap of that never-lie-down Sarries mindset.
F1 needs a bust-up
Photo: Getty Images
Despite their on-track tussling in the 2017 Formula One drivers’ championship, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are being notably grown-up and friendly in the paddock. Which is… very annoying, no? One of the great pleasures of the last two years was seeing Hamilton (above) and his erstwhile team-mate Nico Rosberg on the verge of poking each others’ eyes out. Now it’s gone, I kind of miss it. More evidence, I think, to place in my growing box file marked ‘sportsmanship is overrated’.
Viva Las Vegas, champ
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EXCLUSIVE: Now I’ll take out the rest…one by one, says Joshua
With November pencilled for Anthony Joshua’s next fight, probably a rematch against Wladimir Klitschko, it seems almost certain that it will take place outside the UK. The retractable-roofed Principality Stadium is booked up for four consecutive Wales rugby internationals. China and Dubai have been mentioned as potential alternatives but, really, why would you take the fight anywhere but Las Vegas? If Joshua and Eddie Hearn really do want to rule the world, Nevada is the place they have to go next.