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Wimbledon: Serena, Venus and Roger strike three blows for the glorious golden oldies

Edmund Curran

It was the day of the golden oldies at Wimbledon yesterday. Age shall not weary them came to mind as I watched first Roger Federer and then the Williams sisters roll back the years and prove that, as they come closer to 40, they can still command the big courts and draw the admiration of adoring fans.

On an outside wall of Centre Court is a list of the boys' singles title holders over the decades. Pat Cash is there, and so too is Stefan Edberg, but one year and one name stands out - '1998 R Federer' - then a teenager from Basel in Switzerland.

Yesterday, exactly two decades later, he was thrilling a packed Centre Court and still showing why he remains the world's most sublimely talented tennis player.

Then there was Venus Williams, whom I remember as a beanpole 17-year-old with her beaded hairstyle, jokingly serving strawberries and cream to those of us in the media restaurant on a rain-swept day. How far she had travelled in all the years since.

At the age of 38, and during two long hours and eight minutes on Court Two, she played and won as if her life depended upon it.

What spirit. What drive.

What a role model for sport, she showed once more, as the oldest competitor in this year's championships.

As if that were not enough for one day, her sister Serena capped everything.

36 years old, mother of a 10 month old baby girl, just back from pregnancy leave and as passionate about her tennis as any of us had ever seen her.

Her noisy exhortations to herself could be heard high up in the Court One grandstands as she too defied the years and awkward windy conditions to beat a talented opponent in Arantxa Rus from the Netherlands.

When the umpire opened the match, I felt he might have said: "Mrs Williams, superwoman of the sporting world, to serve" and not even her opponent would have objected.

Interviewed afterwards, Federer and the Williams sisters were buoyant and confident that they can defy their ages with more success this week. Federer said it meant the world for him to play in front of his family - his children, twin boys and twin girls, looked on and their grandparents were there too in the Royal Box.

"Yes. It's definitely a special day in my life," he said proudly after barely drawing breath in beating his much younger Serbian opponent Dusan Lajovic in simple straight sets.

Wimbledon on a sun-drenched opening day was a sporting glory to behold. The courts pristine, the organisation precise and perfect as ever.

Even the immaculately manicured grass was cut a millimetre or two longer than usual to take account of this year's parching weather forecast and the prospect that the baselines could resemble a well-worn cricket crease by finals day.

Perhaps Rudyard Kipling's inspirational words, inscribed above the players' entrance to Centre Court, should be rewritten to take account of what Wimbledon's aging heroes and heroines are achieving: "If you can cope with triumph and disaster and approaching middle age, and treat those three imposters just the same...."

This year Wimbledon has 43 men and 21 women in the main singles draws who are 30 or over.

The most fancied youngster is the lanky German, Alexander Zverev (21 years 86 days and No.4 seed) but even he is too old to break the record of his fellow-countryman Boris Becker, who was only 18 when champion in 1986.

Yesterday was a far cry from those distant days. Federer and the Williams sisters showed that success in professional tennis depends upon a mature mind as much as athleticism.

Age, indeed, has not wearied the golden oldies who stole the show on Wimbledon's glorious opening day.

Belfast Telegraph

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