Jimmy Connors has drawn a parallel to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as he reflected on the challenges of aging in tennis.
Connors enjoyed the peak years of his tennis career between 1974 and 1978. During his illustrious career, the American won one Australian Open, two Wimbledon Championships, and five US Open titles.
However, after 1978, his form waxed and waned. The emergence of younger rivals such as Ivan Lendl, Bjorn Borg, and John McEnroe also contributed to his diminishing dominance in men’s tennis.
Connors displayed flashes of the brilliance that summed up his peak years until 1990. However, in 1990, an injury-plagued Connors endured a miserable season. At the time, he was struggling with his left wrist, and as a result, he could only feature in three competitive matches and failed to win a single contest. Subsequently, he plummeted down the ATP rankings and found himself languishing at No. 936.
However, after undergoing surgery, Connors enjoyed a resurgence in 1991. Even though his comeback was temporarily stalled by a back injury sustained at the 1991 French Open, he bounced back in stunning fashion. Against all odds, Connors reached the semifinals of the US Open that year, where his improbable run was stopped in its tracks by a young Jim Courier.
In the latest episode of the Advantage Connors podcast, Connors revisited the fine line he had to tread when his body struggled to keep up with the grueling physical demands of tennis.
“Even though I was getting older I knew that I had to put more time in and train harder because I was playing against guys younger, but I also understood that I couldn’t do it so much and I’d hurt myself,” Connors said.
The 71-year-old also drew a parallel to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“When you do get older, whether Nadal or Federer or Pacho Gonzales, who played well into his 40s, or me, you got to figure that out on your own (how to manage the body).”
A look at the injury woes that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had to deal with after turning 30
In 2016, a 34-year-old Roger Federer sustained a torn meniscus in his knee a day after his Australian Open semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic. He had to undergo surgery, and in hindsight, it proved to be the beginning of his end.
Even though Federer made a miraculous recovery and won both the 2017 and 2018 Australian Open titles, his knee problems persisted. Eventually, he called time on his singles career after exiting the 2021 Wimbledon Championships following a loss to Hubert Hurkacz in the quarterfinals. Federer bid his farewell to tennis for good at the 2022 Laver Cup.
Federer’s long-time rival and friend Rafael Nadal also struggled with injuries throughout his career despite amassing 22 Grand Slam titles. During the 2023 Australian Open, Nadal sustained a hip injury, which eventually required him to undergo surgery. He was also forced to skip the rest of the 2023 season.
Nadal made his comeback at the Brisbane International, an ATP 250 event prior to the 2024 Australian Open. While Nadal won his first two matches at the tournament, he was overwhelmed by Jordan Thompson in the third round. During that match, Nadal sustained another hip injury, which led him to withdraw from the Australian Open last month.