Wimbledon 2017: How the likes of Roger Federer and Venus Williams bucked the status quo
Before 2017 two figureheads of tennis, Roger Federer and Venus Williams had largely spent the past several years failing to make it to the end of Grand Slam tournaments.
Over the past five seasons Federer featured in four out of a possible 18 finals whilst Williams failed to make it to the final two of a major tournament once — her closest attempt being last year’s Wimbledon semi-finals where she was humbled in straight sets by Angelique Kerber.
The New Year signalled a renewed vigour for the pair as Federer showed no signs of rustiness following a six-month break, beating old nemesis Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Williams met her younger sister, Serena, at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne — marking her first final appearance in eight years — but couldn’t prevent Serena from clinching an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam singles title.
Six months later, Federer and Williams rolled back the years once more, the Swiss former world number one thrashing Marin Cilic in straight sets to win a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon crown.
Spain’s Garbine Murguruza might have once again stopped Williams from going all the way but the very fact she made it to the final, despatching hot favourite Johanna Konta along the way, left everyone on Henman Hill and beyond in awe.
The big question is how did these two, at an age where most sportspeople are about to retire or seriously contemplating the idea, produce some of their best tennis when it mattered the most?
One theory behind Federer’s triumph could be the extended leave he took during the second-half of last year.
The schedule is bigger than ever and players have to deal with a lot of mental and physical stress, as they travel all around the world to take part in various tournaments from one week to the next.
If a player is also carrying an injury then it can become even more strenuous and potentially have an adverse effect on their performance.
With Federer deciding to put his racket away completely for several months it allowed his body to properly recover which gave him a new lease of life come the start of this year. He also took eight weeks off after winning the Miami Open in April admitting that his best tennis comes when he is “healthy and feeling good”.
By making intelligent decisions like this and being fully aware of the factors which dictate how well he performs, the Basel-born player is able to play like someone ten years younger.
Williams also demonstrates a high level of professionalism in the way she conducts herself off the court.
Suffering from an auto-immune disease called Sjogren’s syndrome, which includes symptoms such as joint paint and fatigue, Williams made a bold decision by switching to a raw vegan diet and admitted it had a dramatic impact.
“I literally couldn’t play tennis anymore, so it really changed my life,” she said in an interview with Health magazine.
“Not only does it help me on the court, but I feel like I’m doing the right thing for me.”
This drastic change to her preparation translated into a higher level of endurance, which was evident during the past few weeks as she despatched off players, who were nearly all more than 15 years younger.
The actions of Federer and Williams are reminiscent of great sportspeople and individuals who are not afraid to try new approaches regardless of whether it is a complete contrast to their previous routines.
So for how long can these two continue to mix it with the very best on the biggest stages?
The way the pair have become smarter with age and the level of their performances during Wimbledon would suggest they could continue playing in Grand Slams for the next few years at least.
Ken Rosewall currently holds the record as the oldest male player to win a Grand Slam in the Open era, beating Malcolm Anderson to win the 1972 Australian Open at the age of 37.
In the women’s game, Serena Williams is the oldest female player to win a major in the Open era with her Australian Open triumph earlier this year, aged 35.
Advances in sports science and the way players look after themselves off-the-court have changed dramatically in recent decades which gives Federer and Williams a great chance of breaking those records.
If they continue to play such an exciting brand of tennis like they have done in the capital earlier this month tennis fans will certainly hope they defy the odds and carry on producing magic with racket in hand.