Who is the oldest player to ever make a breakthrough?


We've seen older players make a breakthrough before. For example, Martin Van Kirk made it to the semifinals (or was it the finals?) of Roland Garos several years ago at the age of 31. It seems to me that with todays knowledge of fitness and nutrition that a player could feasibly breakthrough at the age of 35+ on the natural surfaces (I think the hardcourts may be a little too punishing on the body, but it may be possible on that surface too).

Jimmy Connors played until he was 39+, and professional soccer players routinely don't hit their peak until they are in their thirties--some play until nearly 50 (i.e. Lothar Mathaus at 47 still effectively played the number 10 spot in matches for the German national team).

Especially if you include doubles, how old is it before one has to put away their dreams of playing professional tennis?

When you look at professionals who retire around the age of thirty or in their mid-thirties, their bodies have taken the punishment of playing professional tennis for often more than 10+ years. After multiple surgeries and injuries and the day-to-day grind, I am sure that there is not much left in them by that point. However, if a player's body has never been through that grind, it may be possible for them to compete through their thirties. At least, they might be able to make a brief breakthrough. After all, tennis can be a streaky sport, if someone gets on a good run.

Any feedback? Any examples of late bloomers? :?:

Kevin Patrick

Hall of Fame
I don't know Verkerk's age, but he certainly wasn't 31 when he made the French finals.

As to the rest of your question, what is your definition of "breakthrough?" Yes, Connors, Agassi & Rosewall were great players over the age of 30, but they were also top players when they were teenagers, so they don't really compare to a journeyman on the satellite circuit who's pushing 30 & hasn't made the top 100 yet.


Verkerk was 24 when he made RG '03 final.

Best recent example of what I think the op was asking is Rafter, who didn't make so much as a slam SF until he was 24 but made 4 slams finals and was solid top tenner ages 24-28.


New User
Younes El Aynaoui - a late bloomer who is now 34.

I love the bus driver at Nick's academy story. Too bad he got hurt on tour just around the time his wife gave birth. The injury plus the new baby might be killing the competitive spirit. I miss him, he was exciting to watch.


I think Bill Tilden was 27 when he won his first Wimbledon and US championship. At 37 he won his last Wimbledon in 1930. Before open tennis the players reached their peak at an older age at about 27-30. Kramer was 26 or 27 when he won his first Wimbledon. There were exceptions like Hoad and especially Rosewall, who was youngest and oldest winner of Australian. I think it changed with Borg, now the players reach their peak at about 23-25.


Gomez won late in his career but you couldnt really call it a break through. He'd been solid top ten and underperforming for years. Rafter isn't a bad example although he's pretty typical of the average Aussie player over the last 30 years. They mature very late - Wayne Arthurs is a prime example- and often continue to play well into their 30's. Peter McNamara made it to number 7 in the world at the age of 28, Wally Masur had his best year and made the US Open semis at 30 and Darren Cahill was a late bloomer getting to the US Open semis at age 24. On the women's front, Nicole Pratt hasn't really made a breakthrough but she has achieved her best results at pretty much 30 years of age.

Doubles is another matter entirely. Ive got little doubt that Woodforde and Woodbridge could have remained very competitive if they'd kept playing and if McEnroe (as well as other top level serve-volley singles players like Cash, Rafter, Edberg, Jarryd) had just quit singles play and concentrated on doubles he could easily have continued up until he hit 40. The thing is, given how much money they've already made, there's little incentive to keep going.

Sorry for wandering off topic, just some wishful thinking about Mac, Rafter etc still playing the doubles circuit. Now that would be great for doubles at the pro level.


The Rafter example is a good one. Of course, Rafter has also been very outspoken about the fact that he retired from tennis, because he was afraid that if he continued to play on the hardcourts that he wouldn't be able to walk when he was an old man. The body isn't made to start and stop on concrete like that--it's very punishing on the knees, hips and ankles.

I think the better example of what I am looking for is Younes El Anouyi. That is a good example of a breakthrough later in life. Apparently, I was mistaken about VerKirk. I thought that he was older than that. Mary Pierce is another good example--finalist at RG this year--and she has definitely been in and out of her career--and even in and out of shape as well (due to injuries etc.). There were times in her late twenties when she looked downright fat. Somehow, she made it back though--to her credit.

I just still don't understand why tennis players should be all wrapped up by 30. It just doesn't make sense. I think its partly due to the season being too long (and I still think the emphasis on hard court tennis for much of the year has something to do with it as well).

At 47 Martina Navratilova made the effort to comeback. I think she could have done it too. I saw her first round match that year at Wimbledon, and to be honest, she just had one of those days where nothing went right. I applaud her bravery though, and it certainly wasn't her fitness that cost her the match.

But seriously, for many sports the 30's are the prime years--and I am not talking about bowling. The soccer example is a good one--that is a grueling sport--and 35 year olds regularly keep pace. Personally, I think that if Sampras trained exclusively for Wimbledon and played only that tournament (with an obvious wild card entry) that he could seriously compete for that title for the next 10 years. He would simply have to maintain general fitness throughout the year and begin seriously training on grass a couple of months prior each year. I think the sport needs more older players in the mix. It's entertaining--everyone loves to see the old-timer take the youngins to school. Remember that the U.S. Open crowd was in hysterics the year of Connors' run. Even marathon runners compete well into their 40s. Why is it that to play competitive tennis, one has to be 20 years old. It just doesn't make sense.


Hall of Fame
Maybe it's because we're both Aussies, but I Andrew nialed pretty much the two players I was thinking of. Wally Masur hitting the semi's of the US Open - although he had been around and was a quality player before hand - and Wayne Arthurs, who even many of us hadn't heard about until he was brought in to play against Russia in a Davis Cup semi and beat both Safin and Kafaelnikov.