Throughout all the major sports in the world, we are witnessing more and more athletes delay retiring. In the NFL, Tom Brady retired, then un-retired in a short space of time. 2 nights ago, LeBron James put up 31 points in the opening night of his 20th professional season of basketball. Despite the fact that both players are playing still at an extraordinarily high level- what is to stop them from playing well into the future at even an “average” level? The answer lies in the public opinion, where the general public feels like it is their business as to whether a player continues to play at just an “okay” level.
It takes a real test of character for a world class athlete to have an ego death. To allow themselves to flounder around in the darkness of the lowest rankings of their sport- then to very slowly, but surely, work their way right up to stay in the mix as a top level professional athlete. Over the past 2 years post- hip resurfacing, Murray has beaten several top 10 players. For years before this, Murray was floundering outside of the world’s top 100. At one point almost 3 years into his comeback attempt, he was ranked at number 249 in the world. It is abundantly clear that Murray loves the simple act of competing as a professional athlete.
The expectation that an older top level player must do x, y and z- or their season is a failure- is fast becoming an outdated concept. Many pundits of the game often complain that a tennis player may be “washed”, simply because they are not making grand slam finals anymore. What many do no realise is that it is so difficult to even make a grand slam final. Many have never been able to experience the feeling of even losing a grand slam final.
Let’s put this into perspective. Denis Shapovalov is currently the 20th ranked player in the entire world. However, he has only won 1 singles title. Meanwhile, Andy Murray won a single’s title in his career post hip resurfacing. The expectation that older tennis players of the game must make quarterfinals at each slam – or they are a failure – is complete nonsense. The best young players in the world at the moment- ranked in the top 20, regularly have performances at grand slams where they might lose in the 3rd or 4th round- feats that Andy Murray has managed to accomplish in his comeback trail with a metal hip.
We are seeing more and more athletes continue to extend their careers indefinitely. There is also a strong argument that a player should see the limits of their ability- and only retire when they can no longer beat the best players in the world. There should be no automatic expectation that a 35 year old should be the number 1 in the world. Also, is it not quite odd that some fans seem to take personal offence that a player is still playing into advanced athletic years?
The route that Andy Murray has taken is quite honestly refreshing. He has decided he wants to play until he can’t winagainst the big guys anymore. In the last year, he has gone toe-to-toe with world number 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas. He defeated world number 10 Hubert Hurkacz last year in Vienna, followed by world number 11 Jannik Sinner in Stockholm. He also won a 3 hour 45 minute best-of- 3 match against Frances Tiafoe last year at the European Open. In 2022, he beat Tsitsipas and Kyrgios back to back at the Stuttgart Open. Yet unfortunately for Murryy, every time he loses a match (like anybody else in the top 10 or 20), he is questioned about whether it is is time to ‘hang it up’. When other top 10-20 players lose matches, these same questions are not brought up.
So, all in all, is it finally time to take the stigma away from athletes who don’t want to retire at their “peaks”.