Old friends reunited in battle of the ‘pensioners’

Published: August 21, 2007 | 6671st good news item since 2003

Wayne Arthurs and Jonas Bjorkman, with a combined age of 71, creak into action today with wheelchairs at the ready. Both have struck a powerful blow for Wimbledon’s senior statesmen by setting up this throwback of a third-round tie, but Australia’s Arthurs could be forgiven a certain fragility after he needed a fix of anti-inflammatories just to get here.

The personalised wheelchair did not need to be scrambled, such was Arthurs’ lively straight-sets dismissal of 11th seed Tommy Robredo, whereupon he suggested he was having far too much fun to retire. Apparently, the enticement of top-100 ranking – his for the taking should he advance to the quarter-finals – was too great, since it would allow him a passport beyond the pasture of the Challenger circuit.

“I’ve had the apprenticeship longer than most at the Challenger level,” Arthurs said. “To go around full circle, I can’t do that again.” Even so, this represents quite a volte- face for a man who, before his arrival at the All England Club, had declared a concrete decision to retire. To hint that a comeback is “possible” at 36 is unlikely to impress his daughter, Amber, whom he has been serenading with Sesame Street rhymes in an attempt to embrace domestic life.

But the competitive fire, once reignited, is difficult to extinguish. Arthurs has become the oldest player since Jimmy Connors in 1991 to reach the third round at Wimbledon, and insisted that a creaking hip was nothing that a dose of Voltaren could not cure. “It’s a little anti-inflammatory pill, which helps pretty well when you’re over 35,” he explained. “I’m holding up.”

Originally, Arthurs’ appearance in SW19 was meant to form the second and final part of his valedictory tour, after the Australian Open in January. The prospect of a showdown with Bjorkman, though, instantly revived his motivation, given the physical nature of past contests. In the Davis Cup three years ago, he was on his guard when he received a ball squarely in the nether regions from the Swede.

Bjorkman remembered it well. “It was a normal forehand volley, so he didn’t have time to react and he got it an uncomfortable place,” the 35-year-old said.

Published in Reunited
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