Wimbledon, England. Most tennis professionals retire by the age of 30. But last week, Serena Williams, who is almost 41 years old, fought for more than three hours at Wimbledon with an opponent who is half her age.
Venus Williams is here too. At 42, she played in mixed doubles, with a ribbon on her right knee and a not-so-bouncy gait. Roger Federerwho hasn’t played since limping off Wimbledon last year, hopes to return to the tennis tour in September when he turns 41. looking at the Grand Slam at 36 after a medical procedure that weakened the nerves in his troubled left leg.
To one degree or another, the biggest names in tennis continue to exist. Why is it so hard, when the best years are behind, to leave the stage and win back with your millions? And it’s not just tennis. Tiger Woods estimated net worth of $1 billionis go out of my way to get back from devastating leg injuries at age 46. Tom Brady can’t stay away from football. Ordinary working people go through life believing that retirement is the end game. Not so with professional athletes.
It’s not just advances in fitness and nutrition that keep their bodies in the game. The changing nature of the sports business and celebrities have conspired to keep stars in it much longer than in the past. But there is another element that has remained unchanged for generations.
“I 100% understand why they want to continue,” said Martina Navratilovaa longtime No. 1 and 18-time singles champion who retired at 37 in 1994, returned to play doubles and didn’t retire permanently until she was nearly 50 years old.
“You really appreciate it and understand how lucky you are that you are doing what we are doing,” Navratilova said. “This is dope. It’s a very legal drug that a lot of people would like to have but can’t get.”
Serena Williams eliminated from Wimbledon in the first round for the second year in a row, she is far from the most athletic and suffocates throughout the entire segment of the journey. Soon, she and Federer will face a lack of rankings in the sport they have dominated for decades. Venus Williams decided to play mixed doubles at Wimbledon at the last moment. But there were no announcements of exit strategies; There are no target dates for end dates.
“You never know where I’ll pop up,” Venus Williams said on Friday, before she and Jamie Murray lost to Alicia Barnett and Johnny O’Mara on a third set tiebreaker in the round of 16 on Sunday.
Earlier Sunday at a ceremony on Center Court, Federer, who holds a record eight Wimbledon men’s titles but hasn’t played a match in a year, said he hoped to play Wimbledon “one more time” before retiring.
This is a new kind of uncertainty: great champions are long past their prime but not yet ready to call it a career, while underdogs are busy speculating about when the time will come. Nadal, who himself has sparked a lot of talk about retirement and said he was close to retiring just a couple of weeks ago due to chronic leg pain, understands the public’s desire for clarity. Celebrity athletes “have become part of the lives of so many people,” he said after reaching the third round of Wimbledon.
Even Nadal said he felt insecure when he saw his friend Woods become a part-time golfer. “It’s a change in my life too.”
But the Woods and the Williams sisters, like other aging and often absent sports stars, remain active, not retired. There may be commercial incentives to keep it that way. Official resignation not only ends a playing career. This can terminate the endorsement or sponsorship deal and reduce the star’s popularity.
“Typically, when you announce your retirement, it definitely gives the company the right to terminate the contract,” said Tom Ross, a longtime American tennis agent.
But there are exceptions, Ross said, and champions who are late in their careers and have the status of Federer and Serena Williams often have contracts that keep them safe, even if they retire before the contract expires. One example is Federer’s 10-year clothing contract with Uniqlo.
He, like Serena Williams, also has the luxury of time.
Almost any other unranked tennis player would not be able to compete regularly in the top tournaments if they chose to continue. But Federer and Williams have access to wildcards with their noise-inducing icon and can thus choose their seats.
As Federer and others have found, Nike is reluctant to give large sums to superstars near retirement age, favoring active athletes with longer runways. But Mike Nakajima, a former director of tennis at Nike, said Williams, who is still sponsored by Nike, is in an exceptional position. She has her own building on the Nike campus.
“Her building is bigger than Portland International Airport,” Nakajima said. He added: “She had so many different things, so many interests, so many passions, that I think in many ways it won’t matter when she stops. Serena will always be Serena.”
This week, EleVen by Venus Williams, her lifestyle brand, launched an all-white Wimbledon collection, which was not hindered by the fact that Williams actually played at Wimbledon, albeit only in mixed doubles, after more than a 10-month hiatus. tour.
“Simply inspired by Serena,” said Venus Williams.
Navratilova, like many in the game, believes Venus and Serena Williams will retire together when the time is right. If it comes. The benefits of an official retirement announcement are few: a temporary surge in publicity and an end to random drug testing. In some cases, this may start your retirement or qualify you for induction into the Sports Hall of Fame.
Retirement is perhaps more of a rite than a necessity. John McEnroe, for example, never officially retireda formality which, in his case, did allow him to earn more on some existing contracts for a time.
“Well, look how well Tom Brady has retired; it got a lot of attention and then it was, “Oh, I changed my mind.” GOOD! “- Navratilova said with a laugh. She added: “Do you ask a doctor or a lawyer how long are you going to continue to practice? People put thoughts into your head that otherwise might not be.”
Federer has been hearing questions about retirement since he finally won the French Open in 2009, ending his streak of singles titles at each of four Grand Slams at the age of 27. Venus Williams, who went through a mid-career slump linked in part to an autoimmune disease, has been hearing them for over a decade.
“When it’s my last, I’ll let you know,” she said at Wimbledon last year.
Here she is, back for more, as is her little sister, although perhaps even the Williamses don’t know how much more. Navratilova does not recommend advance warning. When she announced that 1994 would be her last season, she regretted it.
“If I had to do it again, I definitely wouldn’t say anything because it’s exhausting; it was much more emotionally draining than it could have been otherwise,” she said. “For your own good, forget what it can do for or against your brand. I wouldn’t announce it until it’s true.”
And that was not it. She returned and was US Open mixed doubles win with Bob Bryan in her real last tour level match at the age of 49, one of the best final performances in tennis.
“My point is, if you enjoy playing and you really get something else out of it, then play,” Navratilova said. “Venus has been playing and people are saying she is hurting her legacy. No, those titles are still there.”