Unlike fine wine, professional tennis players and athletes typically don’t get better with age. Or… do they?
In a game that has historically been ripe with teenage prodigies and young champions, today tennis players are turning back the clock and reaching new career heights well into their mid-to-late thirties and even early forties.
Particularly in doubles, where players only have to cover one-half of the court, it is common to see more players enjoy success later in their careers. Unlike the age and fitness demands of singles, doubles lends itself to a variety of game styles and strategies.
The strongest or fastest singles players can easily be outplayed or outsmarted by savvy doubles players whose craft, aggression, anticipation, and understanding of the court’s geometry can give them an upper hand.
At the 2024 Australian Open, a few of our sport’s most beloved doubles standouts brought doubles to the spotlight and showed us why age is merely a number, winning titles and breaking barriers along the way.
Hsieh Su-Wei Captures The “Doubles Double” Down Under
Most tennis fans would agree there’s no one quite like Hsieh Su-wei. The 38-year-old Taiwanese veteran brings a quirky game style and even quirkier personality adored by fans and peers from all corners of the tennis ecosystem.
From her memorable one-liners in interviews, and occasional costume attire in press conferences to her jaw-dropping volleys, drop shots, and lobs, Hsieh brings a unique and incredibly refreshing aura to tennis at a time when the game needs it most.
In Melbourne, Hsieh continued building on her dominant comeback tour by winning not one, but two, titles with an unblemished 11-0 record. In women’s doubles, Hsieh reunited with former partner Elise Mertens as the No. 2 seeds to claim their second major title together.
In mixed doubles, she teamed up with Jan Zielinski on an unexpected run to the championship match. Hsieh admitted she had no plans to play mixed doubles until Zielinski reached out blindly.
Hsieh’s off-speed groundstrokes and aggressive net play combined with Merten’s powerful serve, consistency, and top-notch lob make them an incredibly difficult pair to topple.
En route to the women’s doubles title, Hsieh and Mertens defeated an impressive roster of top-tier doubles teams including No. 9 Demi Schuurs/Luisa Stefani and No. 3 Storm Hunter/Katerina Siniakova in dramatic three-set fashion. In the finals, they defeated No. 11 Lyudmyla Kichenok/Jelena Ostapenko 6-1 7-5 in a masterclass performance.
The win marked Hsieh’s 33rd career doubles title and 7th women’s doubles major, tying Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova among active players with the most women’s doubles majors (aside from Venus’s 14 majors, who I guess we consider semi-active at this point?).
Even more remarkable, after being sidelined from the tour for 18 months, Hsieh has posted a 28-2 record in grand slam doubles matches since returning to competition last spring. She currently holds four major titles with four different partners:
- 2023 Roland Garros: Xinyu Wang
- 2023 Wimbledon: Barbora Strycova
- 2024 Australian Open: Elise Mertens
- 2024 Australian Open (Mixed Doubles): Jan Zielinski
With eight major titles (and counting) on her resume, Hsieh is positioning herself nicely for a Hall of Fame nomination whenever she decides to hang up her racquets. Given her current form and recent press conference remarks, however, it sounds like she is here to stay for the foreseeable future (as long as she is sharing the court with Elise Mertens).
Rohan Bopanna Becomes No. 1 and Wins First Career Major at Age 43
Rohan Bopanna showed us why you should never give up on achieving your dreams. In what was one of the best stories of the tournament, The 43-year-old Indian tennis icon accomplished something he has been diligently working toward throughout his entire 20-year pro career – becoming doubles world No. 1 and winning his first grand slam title.
Bopanna and partner Matt Ebden captured their first major together with a 7-6, 7-5 win over surprise Italian finalists, Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori. The win was equally as meaningful for 36-year-old Ebden, who won his 2nd doubles major in front of a packed crowd on home soil.
Ebden and Bopanna’s route to the finals wasn’t for the faint of heart. They survived two tough straight-set affairs over No. 14 Wesley Koolhof/Nikola Mektic and No. 6 Maximo Gonzalez/Andres Molteni before narrowly squeaking out a dramatic three-set win over the unseeded team of Tomas Machac/Zhizhen Zhang 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 in the semi-finals.
Following their victory, the tennis world erupted into excitement in awe of Bopanna’s incredible achievement.
Since teaming up in 2023, Ebden and Bopanna have been one of the most consistent ATP doubles teams on tour. The win in Melbourne, however, was especially meaningful for them after losing several heartbreaking matches over the last several months.
Leading up to the 2024 Australian Open, they suffered five consecutive finals in close three-set affairs:
- 2023 Madrid Open Masters 1000: L to Karen Khachanov/Andrey Rublev 6-3, 3-6, 10-3
- 2023 U.S. Open: L to Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury 2-6, 6-3, 6-4
- 2023 Shanghai Masters 1000: L to Marcel Granollers/Horacio Zeballos 5-7, 6-2, 10-7
- 2023 Paris Masters 1000: L 6-2, 5-7, 10-7 to Santiago Gonzalez/Edouard Roger-Vasselin
- 2024 Adelaide: L 7-5, 5-7, 11-9 to Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury
With renewed confidence and the grand slam monkey off their back, expect Bopanna and Ebden to continue their impressive form as one of the top ATP teams to beat this season.
Tennis Careers Are Anything But Linear
In tennis, good things don’t always come to those who wait. In the twilight of their careers, we often hope and pray to see players get one last big win or special moment they deserve. But in reality, this rarely happens for most professional tennis players.
Tennis careers are anything but linear. When Hsieh quietly took a break from the tour at the end of the 2021 season, many speculated whether she would ever come back. Bopanna admitted contemplating retirement many times over the last several years, particularly during one brutal five-month stretch where he didn’t win a single match.
Hsieh, 38, and Bopanna, 43, might continue playing professional tennis for just the next few months or the next several years. Regardless of how long they play or how much success awaits them in the future, I’m glad the “tennis gods” got this one right and gave us one of the most feel-good doubles majors I remember experiencing in recent memory.
Two veterans, both equally as iconic and adored, both got their storybook spotlight moment by surpassing career milestones and inspiring fans across the world.