At age 32, Novak Djokovic is the second-oldest, top-seeded Wimbledon men’s singles player since the Open Era began in 1968, when the Grand Slam tournaments allowed professional players to compete with amateurs. He trails only Roger Federer, who set the record last year at age 34. In 2019, Federer is the number-two seed. Right behind him is Rafael Nadal, at age 33.
The aging of the Grand Slam tennis elite isn’t a brand-new trend; Wimbledon has had seven number-one seeds over 30 since 2013, when a 31-year-old Serena Williams was the favorite to win the women’s singles event. But this stretch is unique in the modern history of tennis. Between 1973 and 2013, there wasn’t a single number-one seed at Wimbledon over the age of 30. And the trend doesn’t seem to be dissipating much on the men’s side.
The women’s draw, however, looks a lot different. At 23-years-old, Australian Ashleigh Barty is the youngest number-one seed since Caroline Wozniacki in 2011.
Seeding, however, is one thing. What matters is who gets to lift the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy and the Venus Rosewater Dish (awarded to the women’s singles champion) when the matches conclude.
On the women’s side, Serena William’s sustained dominance skews the data. In 2015 and 2016, at age 33 and 34 respectively, she was both the number-one seed and Wimbledon champion. Her 2016 win made her the oldest Wimbledon women’s champion in modern history. The three next-oldest winners on the women’s side were Martina Navratilova (33 in 1990), Virginia Wade (32 in 1977), and Billie Jean King (31 in 1975), all of whom had to get past number-one-seeded women at least a decade younger than them.
On the men’s side, only three players in their 30’s have ever left Wimbledon a champion: Federer (34 in 2017), Djokovic (31 in 2018), and Rod Laver (30 in 1969). And only Laver entered as a number-one seed.
This year is a potential inflection point on both the men’s and women’s sides. For the men, a win from any of the top-three seeded players would put them in the record books as one of oldest—and potentially the oldest—Wimbledon singles’ champions.
On the women’s side, number-two seed Naomi Osaka, age 21, was upset in the first round on July 1. But Barty, age 23, took care of business. Let’s call it a wash for the youngsters. Karolína Plíšková and Kiki Bertens, the third- and fourth-seed, respectively, are both 27 and both made it out of the first round easily. But so did the 11th seed, Serena Williams, who, at 37, would become the oldest Wimbledon champion by three years if she were to go all the way.
Below are all of Wimbledon’s top-seeded players and winners since 1968:
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Author: Elijah Wolfson