Agnew: Age did not weary them

Roger Federer’s triumph against Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open last weekend increased his men’s grand slam record to 18. Photo / Wikimedia Commons.

Although their latest success in contesting the Australian Open finals in Melboune belies the truth, the success story of Serena Williams (35), sister Venus (36), Roger Federer (35) and Rafael Nadal (30) would suggest age has not wearied them.

Indeed they were often brilliant on their way to and throughout the singles finals in giving fans yet another nostalgic look at their immense talent.

In winning 6-4, 6-4 against Venus, Serena surpassed Steffi Graff’s open era women’s record of 22 Grand Slams whereas Federer’s 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 triumph against Nadal increased his men’s grand slam record to 18, four better than the 14 shared by Nadal and Pete Sampras.

Before that his last slam victory had been at Wimbledon in 2012 when winning the British Open.

Since then younger men like Serbian star Novak Djokovic and Scotland’s Andy Murray have held the No 1 ranking with Federer, following knee surgery last year, dropping to No 17.

In heading to Melbourne, he had no expectations, even after the early exit of Djokovic and Murray, but got there despite two other tough five-setter thrillers, especially that against fellow Swiss, Stan Wawrinka.

Tenacious Spaniard Nadal, a long time victim of tendonitis, also fought gallantly, particularly so in his five-setter semi-final against rising Bulgarian star Grigor Dimitrov whose future looks so bright.

Given his age, Federer’s won’t last much longer. But his legacy as a truly great maestro of the game certainly will.

Few sports epitomise character better than tennis in which Federer is an artist who uses the court as a canvas to display his full array of elegant strokes.

Whereas he is the skilful matador, Nadal is a brave bull, particularly on clay upon which he has won no fewer than nine French Opens.

Who could ever forget the precious moments their rivalry has offered over so many years? That it should continue to do so this year in Melbourne was almost miraculous.

There have also been many great woman players, most notably German Steffi Graff, Czech Martina Navratilova and Australian Margaret Court. All had special qualities but none, the power of American Serena Williams.

Williams may not win the universal affection sports lovers accord the gracious Federer. But none can deny her greatness as a true champion.

How fitting it was that Australian greats Margaret Court and Rod Laver should be in Melbourne to savour Williams and Federer’s latest success.

Meanwhile, much as I love any New Zealand win against Australia, I felt sympathy for Aussie batsman Marcus Stoinis’ failure to achieve an unlikely one-day cricket win at Eden Park after scoring a blazing 146 from 117 balls that included 11 sixes.

At Eden Park he was the one Kangaroo the Black Caps couldn’t tie down after he came in with his team tottering at 54 for five.

Such was the carnage he wrought in the last six overs which yielded 84 runs that Jimmy Neesham, Trent Boult and Tim Southee surrendered 21, 18 and 17 respectively in their worst over.

However, Boult contributed to the Black Caps’ win with a surprising last over 16 with the bat after Martin Guptill’s 61 and Neil Broom’s 73, he set Australia a merry chase at 286 for nine.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author