IT WASN’T so long ago that Roger Federer, 35, wondered whether he would ever regain his full fitness following an injury. He didn’t play for six months since Wimbledon last year after undergoing a knee surgery. It was the same story with Serena Williams, also 35. She faced nagging shoulder and knee injuries throughout the past season, being out of action for almost four months. But the duo stood head and shoulders above the rest at the Australian Open last week.
For losing finalists Rafael Nadal (30) and Venus Williams (36) too, the year 2016 was plagued with injuries. Nadal had withdrawn from the French Open with a left wrist damage. Though he returned in time for the Rio Olympics, motivated by the sheer desire to play for his country, he couldn’t progress past the semifinal, raising serious concerns about his future. Venus, on her part, suffered from a right-arm injury during her build-up to the Australian Open.
So, apart from their grit, determination and talent, what’s it that helped these veterans rule the roost at Melbourne Park? How did they all manage to regain top fitness and conquer their much-younger opponents? I believe it’s the scientific advancement made in the field of fitness, technology and sports medicine that enabled them all to extend their careers.
A recent study showed the trend of tennis players extending their career beyond expectation has been evident since 2012, when almost one quarter of the men’s draw at Wimbledon comprised players who were 30 and above. It was attributed to the progress made in sports medicine and racquet technology which allowed them to conserve energy, develop endurance and recover fast from injuries. If the average age of the world’s top 100 men’s and women’s tennis players in 1990 was 24.6 and 22.8 respectively, it’s now 28.6 and 25.9.
In a more energy-sapping sport like football too, we see veterans like Francesco Totti (40) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (35) still ruling the roost, raising hopes of seeing superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo (31) and Lionel Messi (29) for many more years to come.
I’m happy that our country’s wise leadership had realised the importance of sports medicine in helping athletes achieve their full potential quite some time ago, setting up one of the most advanced hospitals in the world, Aspetar, which has already become a global leader in this field.