A few weeks ago, when the finals of the Australian Open Tennis consisted of Serena Williams facing Venus Williams and Rodger Federer taking on Rafael Nadal, there was a joke circulating around twitter that if someone were to wake up in hospital after a decade in a coma, they would think nothing had changed. On the same weekend, this imaginary patient could have seen Wayne Rooney score his record breaking 250th goal for Manchester United, while a week earlier Ronnie O’Sullivan lifted his sixth Masters title – his twenty-eighth ranking event win, twenty-four years after his first.
Last night, Tom Brady, aged 39, continued the theme of evergreen sportsmen when he played the decisive role in the New England Patriots comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons in the Superbowl, meaning that 2017 has already given us iconic moments from the same sports stars that many of us grew up watching.
While Serena William’s victory over her sister at the Australian open only served to highlight her continued dominance of the sport, Rodger Federer’s was something of a rejuvenation. Aged 35, his win over rival Rafael Nadal made him the oldest man to win a singles Grand Slam final in 45 years, and came after he missed the last sixth months of the 2016 season through injury. He told Time Magazine a few days later, ‘I never thought I’d be able to win this tournament…Coming back, getting older, and people have written me off maybe, makes this one so unique.’
When it comes to being written off, few have experienced it as intensely as Wayne Rooney. But while the player himself has admitted his standards have dropped in recent seasons, his record breaking 250th goal has reminded us of the success he’s enjoyed over the last fifteen years. Constant rumours that Rooney would have been prepared to leave Manchester United had circumstances dictated it, mean his career at Old Trafford may always be seen as a marriage of convenience rather than a love affair; a suitable arrangement that allowed one of England’s finest players to play for England’s biggest club, rather than a situation where neither party could imagine life without the other. Scrutiny will also come from those who point out that he has stumbled across this particular finish line, with his performances in the last few seasons falling well below the standards he had previously set for himself, and many will point to the length of time he has spent at Old Trafford as the sole reason he has achieved this record. However, it is precisely this length of time that has ingrained him on the world of football and on modern culture as a whole, and is what makes the fact that he is still performing, though perhaps not as regularly as before, impressive in it’s own right.
While the length of Rooney’s career, which has seen him play at the highest level since he was sixteen, seems to be catching up on him, the length of time Ronnie O’Sullivan has spent at the top of world snooker continues to help him. His experience and ability when it comes to handling the big occasion, matched with the intimidation factor that he carries after decades of success, means he invariably handles certain situations better than those he faces. While his most recent opponent, Joe Perry, admitted to being slightly overawed by the ‘cauldron-like’ atmosphere that came with playing O’Sullivan in a final, Ronnie explained that it was his mentality that saw him through to victory, saying: ‘I had to hang in there and I’m proud that I was able to do that in such a major tournament.’
With these stars producing big moments, we shouldn’t have been surprised to see Tom Brady do the same last night. His role as catalyst in the New England Patriots victory came thirteen years after he won his first of five Superbowl’s, and has, for many people, secured his position as the greatest player of all time.
Now that he’s done it, at thirty-nine years of age, we might wonder who’ll be next to produce another big performance in the later years of their career. Tiger Woods recently made a return to competitive golf, and even at 41 his age may seem like less of a factor than that of those in other sports, but as his downfall has progressed in recent years, hopes of his comeback have also waned. The fans who once hoped for one more major victory would perhaps now settle for a tournament win of any kind. Whatever his hopes, and the hopes of his supporters, he has plenty of sports stars to look to for inspiration.