They say some things get better with age. If Roger Federer and Serena Williams are anything to go by tennis can now be added to the list alongside wine, cheese and leather.
Both Federer and Williams are 36 – an age generally considered in sport to be beyond peak. Yet both are defying conventional wisdom by playing some of their best tennis to safely reach the quarter-finals of Wimbledon.
Federer has been at his elegant best, efficiently dispatching opponent after opponent to further his already ludicrous glut of records. The most recent victim, Adrian Mannarino, was given short shrift on Centre Court today as the Swiss master unfurled some typically pleasing shots to book a meeting with Kevin Anderson in the last eight.
Mannarino was frozen in the headlights as the adoring crowd encouraged Federer, who was in a ruthless mood. In the time it took many to queue up and buy a Pimm’s the first set was done: 16 minutes was all it took, with the 22nd seed winning just five points.
The Frenchman improved, but not enough to challenge Federer’s dominance and avoid becoming a mere statistic. Make that one of many statistics.
The straight-sets win meant Federer has now won 32 consecutive sets at Wimbledon – two short of his record in 2005-06. He’s won 81 consecutive games on serve at SW19 and has not lost before the last eight at a Major since the 2015 Australian Open.
Federer will now play his 16th Wimbledon quarter-final and his 53rd out of 73 grand slam appearances. His record on grass reads won 176, lost 25.
Records extended, he left his second home just as he had entered it: to rapturous applause. Facing the media afterwards he was characteristically modest when asked about his many accolades.
“I feel like these streaks just happen,” Federer said. “I’d be equally happy if I’d have won all the matches in four sets. That it happened to be in straight sets helps me for the season and to save energy for the rest of the tournament.”
How can he still be this good 30 days off his 37th birthday?
“It’s surprising to be the No1 seed, in the top two rankings at 36,” he offered. “I didn’t think that was ever going to happen to be honest.”
With one all-time great through, the Centre Court crowd were then treated to another masterclass as Williams presented her own argument for experience over youthfulness. Twenty-one women aged in their thirties entered the singles – but just one remains standing in the second week.
World No120 Evgeniya Rodina was on the end of the American barrage, forced to watch as 30 winners and 10 aces flew past her racquet into thin air.
Williams took just 62 minutes to win her 90th match from 100 at Wimbledon and ensure a last-eight clash with Camila Giorgi. Her potent mix of power and precision was way too hot to handle for Rodina and the 6-2, 6-2 scoreline did not flatter her.
Like Federer, Williams is yet to drop a set at SW19 this year. And although she has beaten players ranked 105th, 135th, 62nd and 120th in the world, her performances have all the hallmarks of her previous seven Wimbledon titles.
Ever the perfectionist, Williams would not be drawn on rating her current level, despite the speed of her victory.
“It didn’t feel quick because I feel like the scoreline made it look easy, but it wasn’t,” she said.
While she is busy concentrating on improving her own game following the birth of her first child in September, it won’t be lost on Williams that the draw has opened up in her favour.
For the first time in the Open Era there are no top-10 seeded players in the quarter-finals, with No11 Angelique Kerber the highest left.
“There’s a lot to improve on,” Williams added.“This is only my fourth tournament back [since giving birth]. I would hope there’s a lot to continue to improve on. I feel like I’m getting to where I want to be.”
There’s no doubt where that is: lifting an eighth piece of Wimbledon silverware on Saturday. Were she to do so, she would create another piece of history, joining Kim Clijsters, Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Margaret Court as the only mothers to have won grand slam titles in the Open Era.
The way Federer and Williams are playing you would have to be brave to bet against them rewriting yet more records over the next week.