Ageing like fine wine: Rohan Bopanna’s Australian Open triumph proves age is just a number

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Ageing like fine wine: Rohan Bopanna’s Australian Open triumph proves age is just a number

By Dilip Unnikrishnan

On Saturday, 43-year-old Rohan Bopanna created history by becoming the oldest Grand Slam doubles winner when he won the men’s doubles title at the 2024 Australian Open with his partner, 36-year-old Matthew Ebden.

The pair countered the athleticism and power-hitting of their Italian opponents, 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. Apart from winning his first men’s doubles Grand Slam title, he was also crowned the new world No 1 in men’s doubles. Along the way, he became the fourth Indian to win more than 500 doubles matches and was also awarded a Padma Shri.

All this with barely any ligaments left in his knees.

The victory is a testament to Bopanna’s endurance 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 during their post-match press conference. The Australian hit out at critics who harped on Bopanna's age instead of focusing on his bility to play the sport at the highest level.

Athletes across sports have faced questions about their retiring 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. On Wednesday, Andy Murray took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to criticise a journalist who wondered whether 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 been posed to 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 after a knee injury at Wimbledon last year.

Closer to home in India, two legendary captains have also faced questions about their futures once they went past the age of 35.

Cricketer 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, footballer Sunil Chhetri is only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in international goals. 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 compete in 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 sports discussions. After all, everything boils down to mindset.

As Bopanna asserted in an interview with Scroll days before his record-breaking spree in Australia, “I'm not old, I'm at level 43. Not at age 43.”

Fun fact of the week: On January 28, West Indies created history in Brisbane when they defeated Australia by eight runs in the second Test to register their first-ever win Down Under in 27 years. West Indies last won a Test match in Australia February 1997 when they beat the hosts by ten wickets in Perth.

Here's a recap of the top stories from this past week

England Tour of India: Hartley lands knockout punch after Pope’s 196 to clinch memorable win

Pro Kabaddi: Meet Sachin Tanwar – the understated performer in a league of marquee names

Badminton: Unnati Hooda hopes to continue growth in new season after a headstart

Cricket: Virat Kohli named 2023 ICC Men’s ODI Player of the Year

Women’s Hockey5s World Cup: India finish as runners-up after loss to Netherlands in final

U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup: As teams advance into Super Six – top performers, key clashes and more

Despite the setback, it is important to continue the support for the Indian women’s hockey team

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