Tennis: Don't write off oldies

Tennis: Don't write off oldies
Former professional tennis player and current Fox Sports commentator, Anne Keothavong.

Over the hill? Think again.

Former professional tennis player Anne Koethavong believes Roger Federer and Serena Williams, both 33, still have a number of Grand Slams in them before they call time on their careers and ride into the sunset.

The 31-year-old Koethavong, who is in Singapore as a co-host for FOX Sports' coverage of the Australian Open starting today, says the professional approach of players these days allows them to compete at a high level for a longer period.

"A lot of people have written off the likes of Federer and Williams, because they're in their 30s and are deemed old, but 34 is the new 18," she told The New Paper in an interview at Fairmont Singapore yesterday.

"Interestingly, there are more players in their 30s in the women's draw (of the Australian Open) this year, than there are teenagers.

"In the last 10 years, we've seen a shift - players are playing longer into their careers. I think it's just down to smarter scheduling.

And players are also smarter about how they train and conserve their energy.

"A lot of players travel with fitness trainers and physios, they're looking after their bodies better than ever, and I think it improves their longevity in the game."

The Briton, whose Laotian parents moved to England in the 1970s, reached a career-high singles world ranking of No. 48 before she retired in June 2013 aged just 29 to pursue a career in media.

She also won 20 International Tennis Federation (ITF) singles titles, eight ITF doubles titles, and competed in 10 Grand Slam competitions.

On up-and-coming stars, Koethavong singles out American Madison Keys, 19, and Switzerland's Belinda Bencic, 17, who could make a name for themselves this year.

But she says it is too soon for them to trump the experienced heads when it comes to the bigger tournaments.

She said: "It is exciting to see young players coming through, but I don't think we'll see them winning Grand Slams at the age of 17 like (Maria) Sharapova 10 years ago, or like how Martina Hingis won Slams at 16 or 17.

"Players are now playing for longer, there's more longevity, so the top players keep dominating.

Even Venus Williams, who is 34, won a tournament (the ASB Classic) in Auckland two weeks ago, and she beat Caroline Wozniacki, one of the fittest players in the game, in the final.

"And yet, for the past four or five years, everyone has been asking when she is going to retire.

"So I don't think it's time for the younger players to win Slams just yet, but I certainly wouldn't put it past them to cause some upsets and do well."

Koethavong also gives her take on who could win the Australian Open.

"For the men's singles, I think you've got to back (world No. 1 Novak) Djokovic," she said.

"Depending on his health, if he's well and fit, you've got to back him, although I'd like to see Federer win it.

"For the women, it's hard not to back Serena Williams in a Grand Slam.

"She ended 2014 on a high by winning the WTA Finals here in Singapore, but... if she goes out early, I'd go for Sharapova."

* Anne Koethavong will co-host the Australian Open on FOX Sports, showing on StarHub Ch 208 and SingTel mio TV Ch 114 from 8am to 8pm, from Jan 19,2015.

This article was first published on Jan 19, 2015.
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