Today, Roger Federer officially reclaims the No.1 spot on the ATP Rankings at the age of 36 (36 years and 195 days to be precise) becoming the oldest number 1 since the Association of Tennis Professionals published their first rankings on August 23rd 1973.
Roger’s achievement has been greatly and rightly celebrated and it’s surely another huge milestone in the career of arguably the greatest player of all time, but, at the same time, it’s quite unfair for the media and the ATP itself to blindly ignore what happened during almost 100 years of Tennis prior to 1973, only based on the fact that the ATP didn’t exist.
Prior to 1973 all the most prominent Tennis magazines worldwide, British The Daily Telegraph, American World Tennis, French L’Equipe amongst others, released their rankings at the end of the year. Although none of these rankings can be considered “official” and in some cases it’s hard to understand how a certain players could be placed above another, they are still fairly reliable especially when there was a consensus among them.
So, with that in mind, were there other players who could have been considered as the world no. 1 at an older age than Federer? The answer is yes. At the least 2. American Big Bill Tilden dominated Tennis in the early 20s winning the only two editions of Wimbledon he competed in, in 1920 and 1921, and 6 consecutive US Open from 1920 to 1925.
Tilden was then overtaken by the French musketeers, Rene Lacoste and Henri Cochet, but, in 1930, he reached the final at Roland Garros, won Wimbledon for the 3rd time and made the semis at the US Open. Cochet won in Paris, lost in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and didn’t play the Open.
It’s reasonable to say that Tilden had the best season at the age of 37, although some journalists still favored Cochet for that year. The following year however, Tilden turned pro dominating that tour while Cochet didn’t win a single match in Majors and Ellsworth Vines, the best amateur player, only won the US Open.
All source unanimously proclaimed Tilden the best player in the world in 1931, at the age of 38. Another player who excelled in his late 30s was Aussie Ken Rosewall. The Sydney born had turned pro in 1957 and for half a decade he trailed the likes of Pancho Gonzales and Lew Hoad before becoming the best player in the world.
When Rod Laver also joined the pro Tour, Rosewall progressively lost the top spot in favor of his fellow country man who also led the pack during the first years of the Open Era, completing the Grand Slam in 1969. Rosewall, however, bounced back in 1970 reaching the Final at Wimbledon and winning the US Open as well as 5 other tournaments.
Although Laver and John Newcombe also had a claim for the No.1 spot, a panel of 10 journalist awarded the “Martini and Rossi” World No.1 crown to Rosewall who also topped L’Equipe’s Rankings. Considering that Rosewall also won the Australian Open in 1971 it’s fair to assume that Muscles Ken, at the age of 36, was the world No.1 at least until Wimbledon that year which, being born in November 1954, makes him a slightly older leader than Federer is at the moment.
While we enjoy Federer’s stellar career let’s not forget the accomplishments of those who came before him. Follow Filippo on Twitter @FilippoScala1