On Saturday, 43-year-old Rohan Bopanna created history by becoming the oldest Grand Slam doubles winner after he won the men’s doubles title at the 2024 Australian Open with his partner, the 36-year-old Matthew Ebden.
The pair countered the athleticism and power-hitting of their all-Italian opponents of Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori with smart shot selection and a level of anticipation that has come with years of experience.
It was a fortnight to remember for Bopanna who, apart from winning his first men’s doubles Grand Slam title, was also crowned the new world No 1 in men’s doubles. On the way, he also became the fourth Indian to win more than 500 doubles matches and was also shortlisted for the Padma Shri award.
All this with barely any ligaments left in his knees.
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The victory is also a testament to Bopanna’s longevity in the sport and his single-minded pursuit of an elusive Grand Slam title. Bopanna should be celebrated for being a Grand Slam champion and not that he was 43 years old when he became one.
It was a point Ebden emphasised on during their post-match press conference. The Australian hit out at critics who harped on Bopanna's age instead of focusing on the Indian’s ability to play the sport at the highest level.
Athletes across sports have faced questions about their retirement once they hit a certain age or when an injury robs them of some of their athleticism. For many fans and members of the media, the need to protect an athlete’s legacy trumps the athlete’s desire and willingness to continue playing the sport.
Not even being a three-time Grand Slam champion spares you from being asked to retire. Andy Murray took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to criticise a journalist who once again wondered if the double Olympic gold medallist should call time on his career.
The constant focus on Murray’s potential retirement takes away from the fact that the Scot has had two hip surgeries and is still ranked in the top 50.
The retirement question has also been posed to the seven-time Major winner Venus Williams for years now. The 43-year-old American is preparing to come back after a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to a knee injury she picked up at Wimbledon last year.
Closer to home in India, two legendary captains have also faced questions about their future in their respective sports once they went past the age of 35.
MS Dhoni, like Bopanna, is still going strong after turning 40. Despite struggling with a dodgy knee, Dhoni led his Chennai Super Kings team to the Indian Premier League title for a record-equalling fifth time in 2023.
With 93 goals, Sunil Chhetri is only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in international goals scored by active football players. Almost a quarter of those goals have come after Chhetri turned 35.
Table tennis star Achanta Sharath Kamal won four medals at the 2022 Commonwealth Games at 40 for which he was honoured with Indian’s highest sporting honour, the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna. Now 42, he is still in contention to feature at the Paris Olympics this year.
Athletes around the world have time and again proven that age is immaterial. The obsession with their age should take a backseat in sporting discourse. After all, everything boils down to mindset.
As Bopanna asserted in an interaction with Scroll, days before his record-breaking spree in Australia, “I'm not old, I'm at level 43. Not at age 43.”