Ranking the All-Time Best Male Tennis Players over 30 Years Old
The days when teenagers reigned over the big tennis courts around the world are over. The memory of 16- and 17-year-olds, like Bjorn Borg or Mats Wilander from Sweden or Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, dominating tennis tournaments fade into the recent past.
What is more, today there are more male and female players in the game over age 30 than ever before.
Many cite the increased physicality of the game, as well as the emotional maturity needed to persevere the rigors on and off the court.
Even though certain attributes diminish with age like consistent speed, power and stamina, some players 30 and over manage to retain enough of what they need, adapting quickly to the opponent across the net.
Longevity on the court, however, is not a new phenomena. Many famous players of the past lasted well beyond the age of 30.
What is more, these same fixtures on the tennis courts around the world continued to accomplish amazing feats like capturing majors after reaching age 30.
Here are the best of the men who survived the 30-something years.
10. Roger Federer of Switzerland
Roger Federer at the age of 30, soon to be 31, captured his seventh Wimbledon title at the All England Club earlier this month.
Many expect the Swiss to play for several more years because of his extreme fitness and his ability to avoid injury.
The holder of countless records on the ATP tour, Federer shows few signs of slowing down. The great Swiss himself cites the role of longevity, pointing out men who have played well past age 30 like Andre Agassi, one of Federer’s early fierce opponents.
As Federer prepares to battle for the Olympic gold medal at the upcoming games in London, many will watch him, some hoping he will win as the new poster boy for being post-thirty.
As the world grays, so does the average tennis professional. Hopefully, all will survive successfully just as Federer has on the tennis court.
9. Pete Sampras of the United States
The great Pete Sampras won his final and 14th Grand Slam title at the age of 31.
After being shut out of major winning circles for two years, Sampras held on to win the U.S. Open in 2002, defeating his age-old rival Andre Agassi in the process.
The American never gave up on winning that last major.
What is more, Sampras had won his last U.S. Open title in 1996—six years previously.
The win at Flushing Meadows marked Sampras’ 14th Grand Slam title—two more than the great Roy Emerson who held the record for most major wins for decades.
Shortly thereafter, Sampras ceased playing and officially in 2002.
Sampras, entering a new world in his 30s, left behind a record-setting career.
8. Arthur Ashe of the United States
American Arthur Ashe turned pro in 1969 at the age of 26, having won the inaugural U.S. Open as an amateur in 1968.
In 1973, not long after entering the professional ranks, Ashe reached the age of 30 with much more left to accomplish.
Ashe was an innovator on and off the court, influencing the style of play as well as the politics of tennis. His creative thinking helped change the direction of tennis as the Open Era began.
In 1975, at the age of 31, Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors in a brilliant match to win the Wimbledon title.
Adding to that victory, Ashe won the year-end WCT Finals, defeating Bjorn Borg 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0.
Complications with heart surgery led to Ashe’s retirement from the game in 1980 and an early death in 1993 at the age of 49.
7. Pancho Gonzalez of the United States
In 1948, Pancho Gonzalez surprised the tennis world by winning the U.S. Championships (U.S. Open) at age 20. In 1949, Gonzalez won the U.S. Championships again after reaching the semifinals of the French Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Then he turned professional for approximately the next 20 years.
Many consider Gonzalez one of the greatest men ever to play the game of tennis. Few today, however, realize that fact because much of his career was spent barnstorming across the country playing tennis, often in one-night stands. Many records during those years were lost or incomplete.
When the Open Era began in 1968, Gonzalez was 40 years of age and still playing tennis.
The first major tournament contested in the Open Era was the French Open in 1968 where Gonzalez defeated Roy Emerson, eight years his junior, during their quarterfinal match. He lost his next match to Rod Laver.
In 1969, Gonzalez won one of the greatest matches ever at age 41—playing a man 16 years younger, Charlie Pasarell. It turned out to be the longest match in the history of the game, until surpassed by the John Isner-Nicolas Mahut first-round epic at Wimbledon in 2010.
Gonzalez and Pasarell waged war. Finally, the great Gonzalez prevailed 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9. The match lasted over two days.
Gonzalez remained successful into his 40s playing tennis on the world stage.
6. Andre Agassi of the United States
The former world No. 1 player from Las Vegas, born in April of 1970, turned 30 in 2000.
He continued to play tennis until he was 36 years of age.
In 2001, Agassi won the Australian Open at age 30. He won it again in 2003 at the age of 32.
At age 32 years and 8 months, Agassi ended 2002 ranked No. 2 in the world. At the time he was oldest man to hold that year-end ranking in the Open Era of tennis.
Agassi became both the youngest and the oldest man to win the Key Biscayne title (now Sony Ericsson in Miami)—first at age 19 and then again at age 32.
Again, in the modern era, he was the oldest man to reach the No. 1 ranking after winning the Queen's Club championship on April 28, 2003. Agassi periodically held the top spot until September of 2003. That marked his last rise to No. 1.
As back problems continued to eat into his time on court, Agassi’s ranking fell but he remained consistently in the top five until his last year of competing on the men’s tour.
Agassi understood that it took a supreme commitment to stay in the game. He was extremely fit and focused on court.
His career lasted 20 years and across three decades, with Agassi defying the ravages of time upon his psyche and his body.
5. Roy Emerson of Australia
Like many tennis players from Australia, Roy Emerson played the game extremely well and he played it a long time.
Emerson holds many records including being the only man to have won singles and doubles titles at each of the Grand Slam venues.
In fact, Emerson’s 28 major wins in singles and doubles is something no other male has accomplished to date. Throughout his career, Emerson won 12 Grand Slam singles titles as well as 16 doubles championships.
Emerson turned 30 years of age in November of 1966. He managed to capture two Grand Slam titles past age 30 in singles—the Australian Open and the French Open, both in 1967.
Add to that Emerson’s doubles titles at the Australian Open in 1969, plus his final doubles title at Wimbledon in 1971.
At age 36, Emerson won his final title in 1973 at the Pacific Coast Championships defeating some top-ranked players at the time.
The Aussie played sporadically for the remaining years of his career, officially retiring in 1983 but never really leaving the game in spirit.
4. Ken Rosewall of Australia
In the 1970s, Ken Rosewall won three Grand Slams after turning 35.
In fact, the Australian remains the oldest player to win a Grand Slam.
At age 37 in 1972, Rosewall won the Australian Open for the fourth time. He defeated Mal Anderson, who was 36 years old at the time, on a day when the temperatures on the court in Kooyong soared over 100 degrees.
It was quite a stretch of road since Rosewall won his first Australian Open at age 18 in 1953.
In 1973, after a short break from competing in singles, Rosewall came back to win in doubles. Pretty good for such an “old” guy.
Rosewall went on to make the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 1973. In 1974, he made it to the finals in New York.
Rosewall won his last tournament in Tokyo at age 43, then turned his talents to the senior circuit.
3. Rod Laver of Australia
Leading a generation of record-breaking players from Australia, Rod Laver managed to outshine even the best of the best on many occasions.
Laver managed, like many of his contemporaries, to play tennis well past the age of 30.
Laver turned 30 in August of 1968, the year the Open Era in tennis began.
A year later, Laver won his second calendar year Grand Slam, winning all four majors—the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open—in 1969.
This is a feat no male player has duplicated since.
Laver never again made it back to contest a Grand Slam final but the Aussie continued to play past age 30, still competing at the highest level.
In all, from 1969 through 1976 Laver won an additional 45 titles. At age 36, the Aussie was still ranked in the men’s top five at the end of the year.
In addition to all the other great accomplishments of Laver, longevity must be included.
2. Jimmy Connors of the United States
James Scott Connors turned 30 on September 2, 1982.
By that time, the tempestuous New Yorker had accomplished a great deal on tennis courts around the world.
But after age 30, Connors proved he had much more to offer.
Connors won the U.S. Open twice, in 1982 and 1983. He also reached the French Open semifinals twice, in 1984 and 1985. At Wimbledon, Connors reached the semifinal match in 1985 and 1987.
At the U.S. Open, Connors reached the semifinals in 1984, 1985 and 1987.
Remarkably, Connors reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 1991 at the age of 39. In fact, Connors continued to make life miserable for his opponents through his 41st year.
Connors' last appearance came at the U.S. Open in 1992, where “Jimbo” won his opening round match but lost in the second round to his old rival Ivan Lendl.
Connors made sure in his last 10 years on the pro tour that he left this fans with some indelible memories. He certainly accomplished that in his waning years.
1. Bill Tilden of the United States
"Big" Bill Tilden was born in June of 1893 in Philadelphia. He turned 30 in 1923. Although Tilden dominated the tennis scene in the 1920s, a great deal of his success came after he reached 30 years of age.
Of course, the game was much different for these men who played before the Open Era in tennis, when competition on court split between amateurs and professionals.
The pros were denied entrance into the Grand Slam tournaments which were played only by true amateurs.
The standards we use today to judge success—like the number of Grand Slam titles won—could not be accomplished once a player turned pro. So trying to analyze what Tilden or Emerson accomplished compared to what Federer or Rafael Nadal did, is like comparing “apples and oranges” as the saying goes.
Tilden won the U.S. Open four times after turning 30, in 1923, 1924, 1925 and 1929.
Big Bill also won Wimbledon in 1930 at the ripe old age of 37. By the time he reached his late 30s, Tilden had to work hard to win titles. Winning was no longer a given, like turning on a light switch.
In 1931, Tilden turned to the professional tour at the age of 38. He, and other pros, traveled from venue to venue for the next 15 years. It was a hard life, but Tilden maintained his popularity. People turned out to watch him and Big Bill loved to entertain.
At age 52, Tilden, with his partner Vinnie Richards, won the professional doubles tournament.
Tilden kept playing periodically until his death in 1953 at the age of 60.
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