The last week of January 2017 has seen some spectacular performances in games like tennis. When I talk of these standout performances I am not referring to teams but speaking about a few individuals who with their actions have made the world stand up and applaud them. I can’t resist but mention the names of Roger Federer, the king of Tennis, Serena Williams obviously –the queen of Tennis, Venus Williams and Mirjana Lucic Baroni. To add to this list of elite performers the names of Martina Hingis and Leander Paes would certainly fit the bill.
Federer on January 29 won his fifth Australian open title to make it 18 grand slams: the highest by any in the world in the men’s category.
Serena won her the Australian open on 28 January 17, to make it 23 singles grand slams surpassing 22 by Steffi Graf. The world record for the highest grand slams for women in the world now stands in her name.
Venus Williams entered the finals of the same Australian Open when she lost to her sister Serena. She has won 23 grand slams that include singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Venus failed to reach a single grand slam quarter final between 2011- 2014 as she battled injuries and suffered an auto immune disease- Sjogren’s syndrome , a disease that causes joint pain and saps you of your energy.
Mirjana Lucic Baroni a woman tennis player made it to the semi-finals of the recently concluded Australian open when she lost to Serena Williams. It had been 18 long years since the last time she made beyond the quarter final stage of a grand slam event [ In 1998 she had teamed up with Martina Hingis to win the women’s doubles of the Australian open].
Martina Hingis a sensational teenage star retired at an early age of 22, only to return to a glorious career in Women’s double and mixed doubles: and is still going strong. She has already been in successful partnerships with two other Indian Tennis legends Sania Mirza [women’s doubles] and Leander Paes [mixed doubles]. Her record stands at 22 grand slam wins – that include singles, doubles and mixed doubles. She is also an Olympic silver medalist.
Leander Paes, probably the greatest male tennis player India has produced has 18 grand slam titles to his name with 8 in men’s doubles and 10 in the mixed doubles categories. He is an Olympic bronze medalist for India.
What’s common in all these greats– they are all over 34 years of age- with Mirjana at 34, Federer and Hingis at 35, Venus at 36 and the oldest is Leander Paes at 43. It was once thought that it is impossible to be the world’s best beyond the age of 30, but the above set of players have defied logic and proved to the world that age is just a number. Over the years, when the teen age players burst in to the professional circuit and caused a lot of upset wins over much established players. The analysts said that the physically challenging games like Lawn Tennis are a youngster’s game and the seniors beyond 30 years didn’t stand a chance. The purists are now forced to sit up and take notice of the happenings. The average age of professional players has risen from 25 few years ago to 28 years for men and 26 year for women in the current circuit. There are more players over 28 years of age now in the top 20 than before.
The secret of greatness: Great players have known to possess qualities like : ability to work hard, dedication, determination, mentally toughness, hunger and passion for excellence, internal motivation, to be able to enjoy what they are doing and a burning desire to be the best in business. The ageing bodies, slowing reflexes, staleness, adversities, nagging injuries, poor performances, and lack of continued motivation have forced many older players to move out paving way for the younger crop to continue the legacy they left behind. But Federer and co, have managed to sustain these qualities that took them to echelons in their sport, despite the setbacks that came to them in different forms at different point of time. They have bounced back with renewed vigor, every time people said they were finished. The message is clear-True stars are never finished and they shouldn’t be discounted. Many of these players are still have the fire in them and not ready to call it quits.
What is the secret of their longevity?
Though the game of tennis has remained the same: technically, advances in technology [ Quality of racquets, and shoes] training equipment and sports sciences- nutrition, mind training has taken the quality of the game to unthinkable levels. In a way these advances in technology and training have definitely helped the players in the advancing years of their careers. I have listed the factors that have helped these players to be the best, beyond the age of 30.
- Advances in technology: offering a range of high quality shoes and racquets that are lighter but generating more power than before. Hence the player’s effort is reduced to a certain extent enabling him to conserve the strength and the stamina. High power racquets have made the game more aggressive. Defensive game and longer rallies are a thing of the past unless the players are evenly matched.
- Experience: Countless days of relentless deliberate practice, exposure to tough match situations on number of occasions, ability to play the big points under pressure based on their past experience has given these senior athletes have given them an edge over their younger compatriots. Experience has taught these older players on how to be more strategic and tactical.
- Emotional control and self awareness: this ability is what separates the quality players from the lesser known’s. It is said competitive sport is all about controlling emotions and be able to remain calm and relaxed mentally under pressure. The senior players have mastered this ability to remain on top despite their advancing age.
- Physical conditioning: Professional players in most sports pay a lot of attention to physical conditioning in order to remain in top shape these days. Tennis professionals are no exception to this. They can afford to travel and train with their fitness coaches and this has given them bonus to stretch their bodies beyond the expected tenure. The quality of gymnasiums with advanced training equipment and scientific training methods and coaching standards is at the core of their longevity in a physically taxing game like tennis. This perhaps is the number one secret to their longevity.
- Style of play: the earlier style of play was mostly the serve and volley style and trying to reach the net at the smallest opportunity. But the present trend is mostly a baseline game, where players run more across the court from the base line than up and down towards the net. In this way they conserve their energy for the longer games.
- Taste of success: the younger days of professional sport is all about making money, more and more of money with fame and security. But, with advancing years it is more of ego– a quest for excellence and wanting to be the best. Having tasted success they do not want to give it away in a hurry. It is all about achievement motivation- wanting to push the boundaries of human endeavor and achieve more- Roger Federer and Serena Williams are a great example to this.
Federer and Rafa Nadal who have achieved in their life didn’t have to fight like men possessed against each other on 29 January at the Australian open – but they did wanting to prove superior to the arch rival.
- Enjoyment of the activity: Success comes to you as long as you don’t feel it is a burden and you continue to enjoy the activity. That is what the greats have learnt to do – to be in the present moment and play as if tomorrow does not exist.
Zlatan Ibrahiminovic, at the 35, the Manchester united super star footballer, Al Hydari the 44 year old Egyptian goal keeper, Rangan Herath at 38,Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni at 35 [ cricketers] are on the other side of 35 but continue to make news.
The age of an average human being has increased all over the world so has the life of a sportsman and woman in their sporting careers. The older the better- may the tribe prevail.
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( M N Viswanath, author – Success Mantra In Sports and Sports Psychology Coach)