From injuries, to match fixing allegations, to doping, 2016 was not a great year for the sport of tennis. However, the early part of 2017 has provided a narrative that is easy to embrace and get behind.
The success of players in their mid-to-late 30s has been simply incredible. There are some cases of players even stretching beyond that age barrier. Not long ago, players were retired by their 30th birthday.
While the late career renaissances of Venus Williams and Roger Federer have been well documented, there are a few other older players doing amazing things.
At 17, this big hitting Croatian took the world by storm by reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon and playing Steffi Graf to the wire. After 1999, Lucic was forced off the tour due to injuries, an abusive father and financial problems.
Lucic eventually put her problems behind her and got married. After a few stop and start comeback attempts, she became a fixture on the main tour again by 2008. That alone is a massive accomplishment. Unfortunately, despite winning her first tour title in 15 years in 2014, Lucic was not able to regain her past success and was stuck ranked at the backend of the top 100.
This year, she produced a string of upsets at the Australian Open and returned to a Grand Slam semifinal 18 years after her initial breakthrough. She has reached the quarterfinals or better at four events on the young season. At 35, she now sits at a career-high ranking of 21 in the world. If you are not overly familiar with it, her story is worth an even deeper look.
Date was a top five player and three-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the mid-90s. After retiring in 1996, she announced an unexpected comeback in 2008. A year later, she became the second oldest WTA Tour title winner ever. Her comeback also included a win over Maria Sharapova at her home event in Japan and a memorable match with Venus Williams at Wimbledon.
Most assumed, she would retire again after taking time off for knee surgery last year. They assumed wrong. A newly divorced Date announced her intentions for another comeback late last month. At age 46, Date will return to pro tennis at an ITF event in Japan later this month. She has said that she hopes to resume playing on the WTA Tour.
Date is old enough to be the mother of most of her fellow competitors. Her commitment to the game alone is beyond admirable. The fact that she has had at least some level of singles success at her age is a marvel. A marvel the likes of which we will never see again given the physicality of the modern game.
The former World No. 2 has had too many injuries and comebacks to list. Following a toe surgery that brought his career total to 15, Haas announced that 2017 would be his final year on tour. The German said he wanted his young daughter to see him compete.
Haas has crossed over into administrative roles with the ATP while continuing to play this year. This week in Houston, the 39 year old became the oldest man to win an ATP World Tour match since Jimmy Connors in 1995.
These three players are among the many proving that age truly is just a number in 2017. Their days of lifting trophies are likely over, but their passion for the game keeps them going. More than anything, that is what they should be remembered for.