Professional Tennis Players Who Started Late

Just like many other sports, tennis is quite unpredictable. A player may spend their whole career without getting a chance to shine, only to achieve incredible feats later in their careers.

Many players struggled at the beginning of their careers, and some even got ranked in the top 10, all without winning any major titles until the very end of their careers.

Here are some of the professional tennis players who started late and got the recognition they deserved at an older age.

Stan Wawrinka

Wawrinka, 31, has played a big chunk of his career in the shadow of his friend, Roger Federer. 

Nevertheless, Wawrinka has put himself into the Big Four in the last two years, with some people now giving this group of players a new term, the “Big Five”.

He achieved his first Grand Slam at the 2014 Australia Open tournament, where he played against Rafael Nadal.

He was able to defeat the slightly injured Nadal and many thought he was just lucky, but later he also managed to defeat Novak Djokovic to be crowned champion in the French Open tournament last year. 

Currently, he has the same number of Slam titles as other big names, like Andy Murray. Moreover, he has surpassed Roger Federer’s record in the past three years by two extra titles.

Wawrinka was always considered a top-level player. He just never believed in himself. 

After he managed to win the Australia Open, he told BBC Sport: “Before today, for me, it wasn’t a dream. I never expected to play a final. I never expected to win a Grand Slam. And right now I just did it.”

Malek Jaziri

The Tunisian-born Malek Jaziri was able to reach the Australian Open main draw for the first time ever at the age of 32, becoming the first Arab male to reach the third round in a period of over a decade long.

He took advantage of this opportunity to shine, making good use of his appearance. He defeated Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the second one, digging his way to the third round.

Jaziri turned pro for the first time in 2003. He has participated in the Challenger Tour many times, as well as the ATP World Tour, failing to make any significant progress in any of them throughout his career.

Yet, he managed to reach the quarterfinals in Barcelona, beating the highly-acclaimed young player Alexander Zverev. 

In 2013, due to political reasons, he was ordered by the Tunisian government to withdraw from a match. He could’ve made a bigger impact in his career only if it weren’t for this issue.

Ivan Lendl

There has always been a “rule” that if a player hadn’t won a grand slam before the age of 21, he/she wouldn’t win anything.

Many players like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novac Djokovic managed to win their first Grand Slam before they were 21, and they went on to win many more.

However, there are a few players out there who destroyed that rule. One of these players is Ivan Lendl. 

Being down two sets and a break, everyone thought it’s a no-brainer that John McEnroe is on his way to win another grand slam, but Lendl had another opinion in this. 

He used his experience to bounce back and win the match, claiming his first Grand Slam at the age of 24, exceeding the “rule age” by three full years. 

Time Henman

Tim Henman is yet another player who couldn’t win a Grand Slam before the age of 21 but went on to have a decent career. 

Since he was young, he showed an incredible talent that was highlighted by his performance on several occasions.

Even though he never reached a Grand Slam final, he had made six appearances in the semifinals of the tournament. He was even ranked high for a big portion of his career.

He got his first and only significant title at the age of 29: the Paris Masters.

Janko Tipsarevic

While he got his first Grand Slam title after turning pro by a short time period, he hasn’t won anything significant on the later years, in opposition to the “Grand Slam title before 21 rule”. 

He couldn’t make it to the top 20 until he was 27.

Even though he struggled a bit throughout his career, he made it into the top 10 and reached a career-high of 8 all before he reached 29 years of age. That’s right, he reached his prime in the last quarter of his career.

Goran Ivanisevic

Goran Ivanisevic is widely regarded as the best Croatian tennis player of all time

Even though he had a great start as a young professional tennis player, he couldn’t grasp onto a title for many years, but he frequently came very close.

He struggled to win a Grand Slam, reaching three Wimbledon finals without a single win. He was ranked as high as 2nd at the age of 22, but that was the only time he made it to the top three.

Surprisingly, as his 30th birthday was approaching, he won a Grand Slam title in one of the most remembered Wimbledon finals. It was a great way to end his long career.

Final Thoughts

There’s no exact rule to how and when tennis players will shine. 

It all depends on the player’s confidence in himself and whether he believes he’ll do something or not, no matter his age.