Tendulkar, Navratilova, Agassi and Schumacher among others have defied time and age in an incredible fashion

The intensity which Sachin Tendulkar has retained for past 24 years in his cricketing career is commendable © PTI

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

When Sachin Tendulkar entered the Indian dressing room as a precocious, baby-faced 16-year old, one of the first things team members noted was his incredible zest for the game; it bordered on the obsession — even while sleeping! It’s an obsession that has remained till date as many who were not even born when Tendulkar started playing international cricket shared the dressing room with him. To last for two decades in any sport is truly amazing. But what is almost unparalleled in any sports is the intensity which Tendulkar has retained in 24 years and performed. Apart from the physical wear and tear, there is also the inevitable mental fatigue factor, the sheer ennui of having to do the same monotonous things day in and day out, while sacrificing many, many things in life that will never ever comeback — the wedding anniversaries, the joy of seeing the children grow, their birthdays, the joyous family occasions, the need to spend time with an ageing mother…. Those are priceless moments in life.

If one goes through the pages of sports history, there are very few who lasted for two decades. Let us have a look at these extraordinary league sportspersons:

Tendulkar, Navratilova, Agassi and Schumacher among others have defied time and age in an incredible fashion

Martina Navratilova (left), just a month away from her 50th birthday, won the US Open mixed doubles partnering Bob Bryan (right) © Getty Images

Martina Navratilova turned pro in 1975 — 14 years before Tendulkar’s international debut. Like Tendulkar, she remained an awe-inspiring figure in a sport that was believed to be for the young. In 1994, 19 years after turning pro and at the age of 37, Martina reached the Wimbledon final, where she lost in three sets to Conchita Martinez, following which she retired from full-time competition on the singles tour.
In 2000, Martina returned to the tour to play doubles events. In 2003, partnering Leander Paes, she won the mixed doubles titles at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. The latter victory made her the oldest-ever Grand Slam champion at 46 years, eight months. Criticised for receiving a wildcard, Martina beat Catalina Castano 6-0, 6-1 at the first round of Wimbledon in 2004. At 47 years and eight months, it made her the oldest player to win a professional singles match in the Open era.

Navratilova capped off her professional career by winning the mixed doubles title her 41st Grand Slam doubles title — her 41st Grand Slam doubles title — at the 2006 US Open with Bob Bryan. Martina was just over a month away from her 50th birthday! With 18 singles Grand Slam titles, Martina was simply the greatest ever women’s tennis player, as Billie-Jean King said in 2006.

Tendulkar, Navratilova, Agassi and Schumacher among others have defied time and age in an incredible fashion

Andre Agassi at the 2006 US Open 20 years after he turned pro © Getty Images

Andre Agassi turned pro in 1986, at the age of 16 and he retired in 2006 — his career lasting two decades on the highly competitive ATP Tour where the sport is generally is for the young and the fit. Agassi — like Tendulkar — endured a lot of physical torture in pursuit of his dreams. He suffered from sciatica caused by two bulging discs in his back, a spondylolisthesis (vertebral displacement) and a bone spur that interfered with the nerve. He overcame all those with his granite will to emerge as a champion in his sport. If Tendulkar is hailed as the greatest modern cricketer, then Agassi emerged as “perhaps the biggest worldwide star in the sport’s history”, as BBC hailed on his retirement. Agassi did for tennis what Tendulkar did for cricket — popularise the game with his charismatic personality.

Agassi figured in 15 Grand Slam singles finals, winning eight. He also won the 1996 Olympic singles gold and is one of four male singles players to  win all four Grand Slam championships  — Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open — in the Open era. Agassi is also the first male player to win all four Grand Slams on three different surfaces (hard, clay and grass). Besides, he won 17 ATP Masters Series titles and was part of a winning Davis Cup team in 1990 and 1992.

Truly a titan in the sport of tennis.

Tendulkar, Navratilova, Agassi and Schumacher among others have defied time and age in an incredible fashion

Michael Schumacher walks off with a smile after his farewell appearance on the F1 track as a driver in the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix on November 25, 2012 © Getty Images

Michael Schumacher, one of the greatest ever in the history of Formula One racing, is another who defied time and age.

The German made his debut in 1991 — age 22. He won his first World Championship in 1994 and then clinched five consecutive titles from 2000 to 2004. He retired in 2006 but made a surprise comeback in 2010. Like Tendulkar in cricket, Schumacher holds most of the records in F1 — including most championships (7), race victories (91), fastest laps (77), pole positions (68), points scored (1566) and most races won in a single season (13 in 2004). In 2002 he became the only driver in Formula One history to finish in the top three in every race of a season and also broke the record for most consecutive podium finishes.

According to the official Formula One website, Schumacher is “statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen.”

On November 25, 2012 he competed in his last Grand Prix in Brazil. It was the end of a 21-year-long journey when he literally scorched the earth.

The year 1989 was when Sachin Tendulkar make his entry into international cricket. It was a year in which the great South African golfer Ernie Els also turned pro.

A former World No 1, Else has in his kitty 65 career victories, including four majors and is one of the six golfers to twice win both US Open and the Open Championship.

Els, like Tendulkar, is still going strong on the international professional circuit.

In terms of fame and stardom, David Beckham and Tendulkar have a lot in common. Both enjoy a unique fan-following — even in territories where their sports aren’t that popular. Beckham is an iconic figure who transcends the field of play and has a global appeal. He made his debut for Manchester United in 1993 and has been the public’s darling since then. That aura has taken him to the La Liga in Spain, the Major League Soccer in the USA, the Serie A in Italy and now the French Ligue 1. Beckham continues to have the same appeal, despite his best days being behind him.

Football has also seen other players defying the age barrier. One name that instantly comes to mind is that of the Italian Paolo Maldini. The classy defender first played for A.C Milan in 1985 and signed off in 2009. He was the backbone of the side and was a part of five successful Champions League campaigns and seven Serie A wins. At the international level, he represented Italy for over a decade and was in the team when they reached the World Cup final in 1994.

Beckham’s teammates at Manchester United — Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs continue to serve their club tirelessly. Giggs has been around since 1990, while Scholes came out of retirement and is into his 20th year for the Red Devils.

In the Indian context, Leander Paes is one sportsman who has been around since Tendulkar’s early days. Paes has been Indian tennis’ hope and has carried that burden since 1991. Mahesh Bhupathi, his partner came only in 1995 and is two years away from completing two decades.
Coming to the cricket field, Tendulkar’s generation is long gone. Brian Lara and Inzamam-ul-Haq were prodigies in the early 1990s and retired in 2007 leaving behind a lasting impression. His compatriots Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman came much after him and have also left for greener pastures. Ricky Ponting, Tendulkar’s competitor played his last international game in 2012 is now his teammate at the Mumbai Indians.

As Arunabha Sengupta, the Chief Cricket Writer of CricketCountry.com pointed out, Tendulkar’s longevity is epic. He came at a time when one-day cricket took centre-stage and T20 was born later on. Cricket became a more frequent affair than ever before and despite all the obvious wear and tear, Tendulkar has stood the test of time.

To quote a famous line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Brook, “For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.”

NB: The Wikipedia pages of some of the players have been sourced to get some facts and figures.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/nishad_44)