“I don’t know. I don’t know how many times I answer that question now. . . I’m so tired of talking about my injuries also, to be honest. It’s like, I’m healthy right now. I’m playing good tennis right now. Yes, I’m 35. There’s nothing I can do about it.”—Tommy Haas, No. 2 seed in Hamburg and No. 11 in the ATP rankings, responding at Wimbledon to continuing questions about his age and history.
Haas must feel like the character comedian Bill Murray played in the movie Groundhog Day these days, only instead of living the same day over and over, he’s conducting the same press conference over and over. It’s always about his age and injuries.
Kimiko Date-Krumm, the 42-year-old who this year became the oldest player ever to reach the third round at Wimbledon, knows how the mercurial Haas feels, although she’s more patient with the endlessly repeated questions. As the ever-cheerful Japanese said in London, “I think I have a special body compared to other 42-years-old ladies. I must say thank you to my parents, because I have not big injury in my life, no surgery for my life. So I have a strong body, I think. . . So I have very, very lucky.”
All in all, it’s pretty clear that this is a great time for the “mature” in tennis, and it’s not just because of the large number of over-30 players still competing at the highest level. It’s also about how well those players are performing there, as attested by the success of that brace of all-time greats fast closing on age 32, Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
If I were the USTA, I’d be scrambling to dust off that long-abandoned PR campaign built around the catch-phrase, Tennis, the sport for a lifetime. Roger, Serena, Tommy, Kimiko, and many others are de facto endorsers, and it doesn’t cost the USTA a dime!
Of course, rec players have known this all along, and age-group competition—something we pro tour junkies tend to think of as exclusively for 18- or 16-and-under juniors—has always been a pillar of the recreational game. Just take a look at Richard Pagliaro’s wonderful piece on 97-year old weekend warrior Nels Glesne.
The big difference is that old coots like Glesne are celebrated while pros in the Haas category, while much loved and respected, are hounded with the same questions, over and over. It’s not too high a price to pay for the rewards they earn, but it underscores the way the press, once it gets hold of a story, won’t let it go. It gums it to death, and that takes a little bit of the fun out of it.
In the end, pros like Haas and Date-Krumm are not freaks; they’re just expanding the boundaries and showing how strong and durable the athlete’s body—and spirit—can be when it’s housed in the right shell.
So let Tommy be Tommy, all those candles on the cake and all those Ace bandages notwithstanding. Let Kimiko enjoy her 40s, toting around that teapot she pulled out of her bag and put on display during a presser at Wimbledon to show how ready she is to brew up a cup of healthy green tea at a moment’s notice. I hope they can continue on until. . . who knows when?
As James Chavasse, a 93-year0old who played against Glesne in the 90-and-over Asheville (N.C.) doubles championship said—after driving all the way from Raleigh to play in the event—“I’m glad to be here. Heck, I’m glad to be anywhere."