WIMBLEDON, England — Most tennis professionals are retired by their mid-30s. But last week, there was Serena Williams, at almost 41, grinding against a competitor a little bit greater than half her age for greater than three hours at Wimbledon.
Venus Williams, too, is here. She played mixed doubles, with tape on her right knee and never a lot spring in her step at age 42. Roger Federer, who has not played since limping away from Wimbledon last yr, is angling to return to the tennis tour in September, when he might be freshly 41. Rafael Nadal is threatening a deep Wimbledon run and eyeing the Grand Slam at 36 after a medical procedure that deadened the nerves in his troublesome left foot.
To various degrees, the largest names in tennis keep going. Why is it so hard, with their best years behind them, to go away the stage and relax with their thousands and thousands? And it’s not only tennis. Tiger Woods, with an estimated net price of $1 billion, is struggling to return back from devastating leg injuries at 46. Tom Brady can’t keep away from football. Regular working people undergo life believing that retirement is the endgame. Not so with skilled athletes.
It will not be just advances in physical preparation and nutrition keeping their bodies in the sport. The changing nature of sports business and celebrity is conspiring to maintain stars at it far longer than they’ve previously. But there may be also one other element that has remained constant across the generations.
“I get it 100% why they wish to keep going,” said Martina Navratilova, a longtime No. 1 and 18-time major singles champion who retired at 37 in 1994, got here back to play doubles and didn’t retire for good until she was almost 50.
“You actually appreciate it, and also you realize how lucky you might be to be on the market doing what we do,” Navratilova said. “It’s a drug. It’s a really legal drug that many individuals would love to have but they’ll’t get.”
Serena Williams exited Wimbledon in the primary round for the second consecutive yr, removed from her fittest and gasping for air down the stretch. She and Federer soon face having no rating in the game they dominated for a long time. Venus Williams decided on the last minute to play in mixed doubles at Wimbledon. But there have been no announcements on exit strategies; no goal dates on end dates.
“You never know where I’ll pop up,” Venus Williams said Friday, before she and Jamie Murray lost on Sunday to Alicia Barnett and Jonny O’Mara in a third-set tiebreaker within the round of 16.
Earlier Sunday, at a ceremony at Centre Court, Federer, who has a men’s record eight Wimbledon titles but has not played a match in a yr, said he hoped to play Wimbledon “yet another time” before he retired.
It’s a latest form of limbo: great champions well past their primes but not yet able to call it a profession while outsiders occupy themselves with speculation on when the decision will come. Nadal, who has generated loads of retirement chatter himself and said he was near retiring only a few weeks ago due to chronic foot pain, understands the general public’s quest for clarity. Famous athletes “develop into a part of the lifetime of so many individuals,” he said after advancing to the third round of Wimbledon.
Even Nadal said he felt unsettled after seeing his friend Woods develop into only a part-time golfer. “That’s a change in my life, too.”
But Woods, and the Williams sisters, like other aging and often-absent sports stars, remain energetic, not retired. There will be industrial incentives to maintain it that way. Official retirement not only terminates a playing profession. It could terminate an endorsement contract or a sponsorship deal and reduce a star’s visibility.
“Typically, it’s black and white that while you announce your retirement, that’s clearly giving the corporate a right to terminate,” said Tom Ross, a longtime American tennis agent.
But there are exceptions, Ross said, and champions who’re late of their careers and of the stature of Federer and Serena Williams often have deals that provide them with security even in the event that they retire before the deal expires. Federer’s 10-year clothing contract with Uniqlo is one example.
He, like Serena Williams, also has the luxurious of time.
Nearly some other tennis player with out a rating wouldn’t give you the chance to secure regular entry into top tournaments in the event that they did resolve to proceed. But Federer and Williams have access to wild cards with their buzz-generating cachet, and might thus pick their spots.
Nike, as Federer and a few others have discovered, is disinclined to commit major money to superstars near retirement, favoring energetic athletes with longer runways. But Mike Nakajima, a former director of tennis at Nike, said that Williams, still sponsored by Nike, was in an exceptional position. She has her own constructing on Nike’s campus.
“Her constructing is greater than the Portland International Airport,” Nakajima said. He added, “She’s had her hands in so many alternative things, so many interests, so many passions, that I believe in quite a lot of ways it won’t matter when she stops. Serena will all the time be Serena.”
This week, EleVen by Venus Williams, her lifestyle brand, began a Wimbledon collection of all-white clothing that was not hurt by the undeniable fact that Williams was actually playing at Wimbledon, if only in mixed doubles, after greater than 10 months away from the tour.
“Just inspired by Serena,” Venus Williams said.
Navratilova, like many in the sport, believes that Venus and Serena Williams will retire together when the time comes. If it comes. The benefits of formally announcing retirement are few: a brief surge in publicity and an end to random drug testing. It could, in some cases, start the clock in your pension or on making you eligible to be elected right into a sport’s Hall of Fame.
Retirement is probably more a rite than a necessity. John McEnroe, for one, never officially retired, a technicality which, in his case, did allow him to maintain earning more for a time from some existing contracts.
“Well, look how well retirement worked out for Tom Brady; it got quite a lot of attention after which it was, ‘Oh, I modified my mind.’ OK!” Navratilova said with fun. She added, “Do you ask a physician or a lawyer how for much longer are you going to maintain practicing? People put thoughts in your head which may not be there otherwise.”
Federer has been hearing retirement questions since he finally won the French Open in 2009, completing his set of singles titles at each of the 4 Grand Slam events at age 27. Venus Williams, who went through a midcareer dip partially linked to an autoimmune disorder, has been hearing them for over a decade, as well.
“When it’s my last, I’ll let you recognize,” she said at Wimbledon last yr.
Here she is, back for more, similar to her kid sister, although even perhaps the Williamses don’t know the way far more. Navratilova doesn’t recommend giving an excessive amount of advance notice. When she announced that 1994 could be her last season, she regretted it.
“If I needed to do it once again, I’d definitely not say anything, since it was exhausting; it was far more emotionally draining than it could have been otherwise,” she said. “For your individual good, forget whatever it might do for or against your brand. I wouldn’t announce it until that’s it.”
And it was not it. She got here back and ended up winning the U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Bob Bryan in her real last tour-level match at age 49, one among tennis’s higher final acts.
“My thing is, when you enjoy playing and really get something out of it still, then play,” Navratilova said. “Venus has been playing and other people say she’s hurting her legacy. No, those titles are still there.”