The emergence of Kevin Anderson forms a context in which younger tennis fans can appreciate the story of Andres Gimeno.
Anderson is a very rare creature in men’s tennis in the Open Era. He has made his first two major finals after turning 30.
Some perspective: Arthur Ashe is the oldest first-time Wimbledon champion among men’s tennis players in the Open Era, just five days short of his 32nd birthday in 1975. Anderson would have had a chance to top Ashe in the 2018 Wimbledon final, but he lost to Novak Djokovic. Nevertheless, it has been inspiring to see Anderson search and persist and fight to reach a higher level as a tennis player and ultimately succeed. He walked through many valleys and deserts in his 20s, but now he is playing the best tennis of his life. He also made his debut appearance at the ATP Finals and did well, reaching the semifinal round.
Not many other players in the Open Era can cite a similar post-30 emergence… but Andres Gimeno can. His story should not be forgotten among the players we are profiling in our holiday tennis history series at Tennis With An Accent.
To be precise — and fair — to everyone involved in a rendering of tennis history, it’s not as though Gimeno struggled in his 20-something years the way Anderson did. Gimeno didn’t get to play in the Open Era until he was in his 30s. He made the finals of multiple professional-circuit major tournaments in the mid-1960s. However, he never lifted a championship trophy at those events. He had never won any of the majors as an amateur before turning pro, so when the Open Era dawned in 1968, Gimeno — constantly in the hunt at the important tournaments he played throughout his career — was still waiting for that crowning moment.
As the 1972 tennis season began, Gimeno was 34 years old. Time was not exactly on his side. Moreover, 1971 was easily his worst Open Era season at the majors. In 1968, he reached the semifinals of Roland Garros, the first major tournament held in the Open Era. In 1969, he reached the Australian Open final and lost to Rod Laver in The Rocket’s Grand Slam season. In 1970, he reached the semis at Wimbledon, his best Open Era result at The Championships. 1971 was a disaster, with nothing better than a second-round showing on the slate.
The smart money did not point to Gimeno at any of the four majors in 1972. Ilie Nastase was the ascendant player of that year, with Stan Smith also at the top of his game. Ken Rosewall still had something left in the tank. John Newcombe ended 1971 alongside Smith at the top of the sport. “Newk” did not flourish in 1972, but at the start of that season, he figured to be at the head of the pack. A man named Laver was still relevant, still capable of producing magic — maybe not as often as he did in the heart of his prime, but still enough to dazzle audiences.
From this crowded field, which included other great players such as Ashe and Tom Okker and eventual three-time major winner Jan Kodes, Gimeno emerged. The Spaniard produced his best Open Era season, winning four titles.
One of them came at Roland Garros.
Let’s say something about the 1972 Roland Garros quarterfinalists: While none of those eight men won more than three majors, five of them managed to win at least one before their careers ended: Adriano Panatta was there. Kodes, the defending champion from 1971, was there. Manuel Orantes was in Paris, as was Smith.
Gimeno defeated Smith in the quarters, future Wimbledon finalist Alex Metreveli in the semis, and then Frenchman Patrick Proisy in front of a crowd pulling for Gimeno’s opponent.
The road was hardly easy in those three matches. None of them were straight-setters, and Gimeno needed five sets in his semifinal triumph over Metreveli. Nevertheless, at age 34, a man who had been toiling in the salt mines of top-tier tennis for a decade and a half finally found enough form and focus to cross that last hurdle. Gimeno closed down Proisy in four sets to win the 1972 Roland Garros men’s final and exult.
Today, Gimeno remains the oldest first-time men’s major singles champion of the Open Era.
Kevin Anderson’s golden age began at 31. Andres Gimeno’s golden season in 1972 unfolded at age 34.
When coaches, teachers, life mentors, or loved ones tell you to never stop pursuing your dreams, few human beings can point to the wisdom and accuracy of that advice more than Andres Gimeno.