Is this the age of the golden oldie in sport?

Williams and Federer are lighting up Melbourne, but they’re not the only ones

 

You may not have been paying attention to what’s happening at the Australian Open down in Melbourne the past few days. The awkward timezone, meaning matches are in the middle of the night, takes away some of the appeal, especially when a lot of the action is during the week.

However, if you had been watching you would have noticed something like a golden oldie revolution.

On Tuesday morning Roger Federer became the oldest man in 40 years to reach the semi-finals in Melbourne by beating Germany’s Mischa Zverev in straight sets.

At the age of 35 Federer still looks well able to compete – a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that this is his first tournament in six months after an absence through injury.

The exits of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic at the last 16 stage have paved the way for Federer and – not long back from injury himself – Rafael Nadal, although at just 30 years old he’s looking like one of the younger ones.

On the women’s side of the tournament there has been an even more remarkable story with 36-year-old Venus Williams carving a path through her competitors to set up a semi-final with Coco Vandeweghe and a possible final with 35-year-old sister Serena.

The younger Williams sister takes on Britain’s Johanna Konta in the quarter-finals on Wednesday with 34-year-old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni coming up against Karolína Plíšková in the other tie.

There really is something remarkable about the rise of the over-30s in this year’s tournament, especially given the all-action twisting, turning, running and skidding of tennis, as well as the searing heat of a Melbourne summer.

However, tennis players are not the only sportspeople defying the inevitable grip of father time.

Soccer

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s impressive form for Manchester United this season is made only more remarkable by his age of 35. Out of the 22 Premier League games that Jose Mourinho’s side have played this season, the Swedish striker has started 21, scoring 14 goals.

However, Gianluigi Buffon still holds his place as Juventus number one and he’s four years older than even Ibrahimovic. Buffon turns 39 on Saturday and has clocked up 810 senior appearances in his career.

But both will do well to get anywhere near Stanley Matthews. The English winger played top-flight football for Stoke until 1965 when he was 50 years old. He played his last competitive match at the age of 70.

Surely even Buffon will be retired with his feet up by then.

Golf

Going into the final round of last year’s US Masters at Augusta, Bernhard Langer was tied-3rd, just two shots behind 22-year-old leader Jordan Spieth.

Langer was 58.

Unfortunately his challenge faded on the final day but you do wonder what might have been if he’d remained within touching distance until Spieth sent two balls into the water at the 12th.

The German looks as cool and ruthless as ever on the Champions Tour in the US – the stateside circuit for over 50s. Indeed they might as well change the name to the Bernhard Langer Tour because the two-time Masters winner, now 59, completely dominates.

Last season he won the order of merit for the fourth time and lead the field in every statistics category. Yes, every category. That’s number one in driving distance, driving accuracy, greens in regulation, putting average, birdie average and scoring average.

Tom Watson almost won the British Open at the age of 59 in 2009, don’t forget. Who’s to say Langer can’t mount a similar assault on one of the majors this year?

Boxing

Just over a month ago – on Saturday December 17th – Bernard Hopkins boxed in his 65th and final fight. He was 51 years old and has since turned 52.

The American lost out to Joe Smith Jr – 24 years his junior – but bowed out of boxing with a remarkable record of 67 fights, including 55 wins and just eight losses.

From 1994 to 2005 he reigned as middleweight champion, compiling a record 20 title defences during that period.

In 2011 he became the oldest boxer ever to win a world title when he defeated Jean Pascal for the WBC and lineal light heavyweight belts, as well as regaining his Ring magazine title.

Racing

Irish flat-racing jockey Kevin Manning will reach the grand old age of 50 in March but is still riding winners in a career pockmarked with success.

His most memorable season came in 2013 when, at the age of 46, he rode Trading Leather to Irish Derby success and Dawn Approach to the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Manning is the son-in-law of trainer Jim Bolger and guided his stallion New Approach to Epsom Derby, Champion Stakes and Irish Champion Stakes success in 2008.

GAA

The retirement of Monaghan’s Dick Clerkin at the end of last year means that Mark Breheny of Sligo is now Ireland’s longest-serving inter-county footballer.

The 35-year-old attacker captained the Yeats men in 2016 and returns to action in 2017 under Niall Carew.

A Connacht title in 2007 is the highlight of a career that started in the year 2000 for the Sligo man.

Over the other side of the country it looks like Denis Bastick, who is the same age as Breheny, will continue with Dublin for another season after Jonny Cooper said on Monday that he doesn’t think anyone will leave the panel.

Bastick has won four All-Irelands and six Leinster titles with Dublin after overcoming a cruciate knee injury in 2007 and said last year that it is a “greed” for more titles that drives him on as he gets nearer to 40.

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