I can see Venus Williams playing until she's 40. She turns 38 in June but, if you look at how she's been playing and also where she is in the rankings, still inside the Top 10, she hardly seems to have aged at all. She's found a way of staying fresh and healthy, and avoiding burnout.
A semifinalist in Indian Wells, where she beat her younger sister Serena, and then a quarterfinalist in Miami, Venus is in the running for a title every time she plays a tournament. If she stays healthy and motivated, there's no telling what she can do. She must be already looking forward to Wimbledon, as she reached the final last year, and grass is her best surface. In July, so shortly after her 38th birthday, Venus will be among the contenders at the All England Club, where victory would give her the title for a sixth time. If that happens, that victory would come 10 years after she won her fifth Wimbledon and an astonishing 18 years after her first title at SW19.
While Venus hasn't won anything really big in a long time, she did reach three huge finals last year - at the Australian Open, at Wimbledon, and also at the WTA Finals. Which made 2017 Venus’ best year since 2008, a truly amazing feat of perseverance and of refusing to act one’s age.
Her body's holding up, and the willingness and the hunger are still there, along with the focus and the sense of urgency. Tennis is such an urgent sport - when you're on court, you have to be alert and you have to really want it. And Venus clearly still wants it. It seems to me that her future in tennis is more a matter of the head controlling the body rather than the other way around.
Having interests outside tennis, including her interior design company and her apparel line, has helped Venus to avoid burnout. As a player, it's good to have interests in other things because it widens your view of the world and takes your mind off tennis. Those outside interests may have hurt Venus in the past, as she was maybe a little scattered for a while, but now all those pursuits are actually working in her favour. They take her mind off the pressure of tennis while still keeping her mind busy in a good way. A great balance all round and Venus has perfected it.
Across the board, in both women's and men's tennis, there are more players in their 30's still doing well, including Roger Federer and Serena Williams. As this has become more commonplace, it makes it easier for the players as they're no longer having to answer that recurring question of “How much longer are you going to play for?” all alone. Instead, they are on that road together.
Everyone knows more about how to take care of themselves because they've been doing it their whole career so the body's not as beat-up. Even though the tennis is now more physical, the players are playing less, athletic health care is so much better, travel is easier, and the food and drink the athletes consume has been taken to a whole new level. All of this makes a big difference in the long run - it saves the body and the mind, helps you stay hungry and motivated and, before you know it, you’re pushing 40 while still winning major titles. Also, players have a better understanding of what they should be doing, and also what they shouldn’t be doing.
Overall, athletes probably have it easier now than ever before. And the more successful players can afford to have a team of people around them, taking care of just about everything which just leaves them to train and to hit a tennis ball. Over and over and over. Easy, right?