Older and Better? At Wimbledon 2017, Roger Federer and Venus Williams Have Outrun Tennis' Kids

Updated | "It's like preparing for death," Andre Agassi once said of a sportsperson's retirement. "Nobody knows what it's going to feel like and nobody knows when it is going to happen and when it does, it's your time."

It's a nice-sounding quote, if you don't try to break it down too much. There are thousands of retirees with books that tell us, and their fellow professionals, exactly what it's like to leave a sport behind—Agassi among them, in his 2006 autobiography, Open. Even mortals have an idea of what retirement is going to feel like—the lingering regrets, the creaky knees, the tears. Retirement hurts, we can gather that much. No one, as of July 15 2017, has ever returned from the grave to provide a definitive account of the actual death process. Agassi is right about the impossible, enduring mystery of the Great Beyond. It's just sport is a lot easier to predict.

It may well be true, though, that only the individual can pinpoint the feeling of when he needs to exit stage left with as much grace as possible. Go too early, and you're left with might-have-beens. Play on too long, and risk being remembered as a husk of the player you were. Only those who have played professional sport can know what that moment of decision feels like.

Roger Federer and Venus Williams might both have chosen to go at different points in the past few years. Williams, who lost to Garbine Muguruza of Spain on Saturday in the women's final, fought the autoimmune disorder Sjogren's Syndrome in 2011. Federer spent the last half of 2016 recovering from knee surgery.

That they fought on says much about a shared competitive spirit, although comparisons past that point would be fraught. Federer took the men's game to new heights with a feline grace that may have prolonged his career into his 36th year. Williams, like her more lauded sister Serena, stands tall at the back of the court and pummels the ball, and most of her opponents, into submission. That power, retained at 37, has allowed Venus to outlast most of an inconsistent women's field although she has not won a Grand Slam since 2008, her fifth Wimbledon title.

When Federer defeated Canadian Milos Raonic on Wednesday in straight sets, he became the oldest man to reach a Wimbledon semifinal since Ken Rosewall in 1974. Williams would be the oldest female Wimbledon winner in the Open Era, beating her sister's record by three years. Federer downplayed the achievement after he beat Raonic. "I'm happy that I won today. But I don't know if I'm happy to be the guy, you know, in 40 years. People talk more about my age because of numbers, of records like this," he said. "I guess it's great. Yeah, I'm happy."

Federer is the oldest member of the oldest group of Wimbledon semifinalists since Open Era records began in 1968. It's one of the feathery ironies tennis throws up—after his defeat to the United States' Sam Querrey on Thursday, Murray complained about the "wear and tear" that comes with the advancing years. "As you get older, things are a little bit tougher to manage than they are when you're younger," Murray, 30, said. Murray himself, though, has got better with age physically and mentally, while improvements in sports science cannot have hurt Federer's generation.

Federer and Williams have, as of Saturday July 15 2017, avoided Agassi's Grim Reaper. They are not model examples. Plenty more sportsmen and women will slip down the long slide long before 35, or 37, due to injury, or loss of motivation, or both. Novak Djokovic could yet be one. At Wimbledon 2017, though, older has proven better.

This article has been updated to reflect Williams losing the Wimbledon final.