When will Federer and Debbie Williams quit? Maybe never.

WIMBLEDON, England – Most tennis professionals retire in their 30s. But last week, Serena Williams, almost 41, battled a little more than half that for more than three hours at Wimbledon.

Venus Williams is here too. He played mixed doubles with taping on his right knee and not much in the spring at age 42. Roger Federer, who has not played since limping out of Wimbledon last year, is set to return to the tennis tour in September when he will just turn 41. Rafael Nadal is set to make a deep run at Wimbledon and is eyeing a Grand Slam at the age of 36 after a medical procedure that damaged nerves in his troubled left leg.

To varying degrees, the biggest names in tennis continue to work. Why is it so hard, after their best years, to leave the scene and bring them back with millions? And it’s not just tennis. Tiger Woods, whose fortune is estimated at $1 billion, is struggling to come back from devastating leg injuries at the age of 46. Tom Brady can’t stay away from football. People who work regularly believe in life that retirement is the endgame. Not so with professional athletes.

It’s not just the gains in fitness and nutrition that keep their bodies in the game. The ever-changing nature of the sports business and celebrity makes plans to stick with stars much longer than in the past. But there is another element that has remained unchanged through the generations.

“I understand 100 percent why they want to continue,” said Martina Navratilova, the longtime No. 1 and 18-time champion who retired in 1994 at the age of 37, returned to doubles and never left for good. It was almost 50.

“You really appreciate it and realize how lucky you are to be out there doing what we’re doing,” Navratilova said. “It’s a drug. It’s a very legal drug that a lot of people want to have but can’t get.’

Serena Williams exited Wimbledon in the first round for the second year in a row, far from her best form and gasping for air. He and Federer will soon be unranked in the sport they have dominated for decades. Venus Williams decided to play mixed doubles at Wimbledon at the last minute. But there were no announcements about exit strategies; There are no target dates for completion dates.

“You never know where I’m going to turn up,” Venus Williams said Friday before she and Jamie Murray lost to Alicia Barnett and Jonny O’Mara in a third-set tiebreak in the round of 16 on Sunday.

At a ceremony on Center Court earlier on Sunday, Federer, who has a men’s record eight Wimbledon titles but has not played a match in a year, said he hoped to play Wimbledon “one more time” before he retires.

It’s a new kind of uncertainty: Great champions are well past their prime but not yet ready to call it a career, and outsiders are left to speculate when the call will come. Nadal, who has created retirement talk himself and said he was close to retiring due to chronic foot pain just a few weeks ago, understands the public’s desire for clarity. Celebrity athletes “become a part of so many people’s lives,” he said after reaching the third round at Wimbledon.

Even Nadal said he felt restless after seeing his friend Woods become only a part-time golfer. “This is also a change in my life.”

But Woods and Debbie Williams, like other aging and often absent sports stars, remain active and not retired. There may be a commercial incentive to keep it. Official retirement not only ends the playing career. It can terminate an endorsement contract or sponsorship deal and reduce the star’s visibility.

“Usually it’s black and white when you announce your retirement, it clearly gives the company the right to terminate,” said Tom Ross, a longtime US tennis agent.

But there are exceptions, Ross said, and champions late in their careers and the likes of Federer and Serena Williams often have deals that keep them safe even if they retire before their contracts expire. Federer’s 10-year clothing contract with Uniqlo is one example.

She, like Serena Williams, has the luxury of time.

Almost any other unranked tennis player will not be able to regularly enter the top tournaments if they decide to continue. But Federer and Williams have access to wild cards with their buzz-making cache and can thus choose their spots.

Nike, as Federer and some others have discovered, isn’t willing to shell out big bucks for superstars nearing retirement, promoting active athletes with long runways. But Mike Nakajima, Nike’s former director of tennis, said Williams, who is still sponsored by Nike, was in a special position. It has its own building on the Nike campus.

“Its building is bigger than Portland International Airport,” Nakajima said. He added: “He’s got his hands involved in so many different things, so many interests, so many passions, that I think in many ways it doesn’t matter when he stops. Serena will always be Serena.

This week, EleVen by Venus Williams, her lifestyle brand, launched an all-white Wimbledon collection that didn’t hurt that Williams was actually playing at Wimbledon, even in mixed doubles, after being away for more than 10 months. tour.

“Just inspired by Serena,” Venus Williams said.

Navratilova, like many in the game, believes Venus and Serena Williams will retire together when the time comes. if he comes The benefits of officially announcing your retirement are few: a temporary boost in publicity and an end to random drug testing. It can, in some cases, start the clock on your retirement or make you eligible for election to the Sports Hall of Fame.

Retirement is probably more of a ritual than a necessity. John McEnroe, for example, never officially retired, a technicality that in his case allowed him to earn more from existing contracts for a while.

“Well, look how well Tom Brady has done out of retirement; It got a lot of attention and then it was, “Oh, I changed my mind.” Navratilova said with a laugh. She added, “You ask a doctor or a lawyer how long you’re going to keep training? People will put thoughts in your head that might not be there otherwise.”

Federer has been hearing talk of retirement ever since he finally won the French Open in 2009, completing all four Grand Slam singles titles at the age of 27. Also has been listening to them for over a decade.

“I’ll let you know when it’s my last,” he said at Wimbledon last year.

Here, she’s back for more, just like her little sister, though maybe even the Williams don’t know how much more. Navratilova does not recommend advance notice. When he announced that 1994 would be his last season, he regretted it.

“If I had to do it over again, I definitely wouldn’t say anything because it was tiring; It was a lot more emotionally draining than it would have been otherwise,” she said. “For your own good, forget what it can do for or against your brand. Until it is, I wouldn’t announce it.

And it wasn’t. He came back and eventually won the US Open mixed doubles title with Bob Bryan at the age of 49 in one of the greatest finals matches in tennis.

“My thing is, if you enjoy playing and you still get something, then play,” Navratilova said. “Venus was playing and people are saying she’s damaging her legacy. No, those titles still exist.”

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