It’s 12:30 pm on Monday 20 September 2021 and Feliciano López is waiting at Madrid’s Barajas Adolfo Suárez airport for a flight to Boston to play in the Laver Cup on Friday. The interesting thing about the journey is that the Spaniard is making it on the day of his 40th birthday, and he is still competing with the ATP Tour elite.
“I didn’t imagine myself competing at this point of my career, and I’m not talking about at 40, I mean a few years ago, that’s why I’m enjoying myself so much. I didn’t expect it at all,” admits the Toledo native before jetting off to the USA to form part of Team Europe.
Feliciano is one of the few players of his generation that are still active on the ATP Tour, joining Roger Federer and Ivo Karlovic (42) in their forties. “Federer was the torchbearer for this generation and then, of the players who have been able to compete at a good level at this age, perhaps I come after him. There’s nobody that was born in 1981 or 1982 still playing at this level.”
There is no doubt that his extra years on Tour have been fruitful. The best seasons of his career have come in the latter stages. He reached his peak FedEx ATP Ranking (No. 12) at 33, while five of his seven titles came this side of thirty.
At the age of both 35 and 37 he won Queen’s. “It’s true that once I turned thirty, I said to myself ‘I feel great’ and it was a surprise, but then I realised it was a reality and that I might even be able to play more years,” Lopez said. “When I was 35, I won Queen’s for the first time, it was a surprise to win at that age. Then I realised that it was no flash in the pan, that I was feeling physically very fit and I could keep going for a few more years.”
Such has been his tenure on the ATP Tour that he is one of only eleven active players to have surpassed the 500-match barrier, while he alone holds the record for consecutive appearances in majors with 78.
“In the beginning, when I started to play tennis, we all had the idea that after 30 professionals started to think about retiring,” remembers Feliciano. “You always have that in mind and it generates a lot of uncertainty. But when I turned 30, I was also uncertain, but those were good years. They were the best of my career, so it stopped being a surprise.”
The passing of the years on the ATP Tour has meant that nowadays he plays opponents who are half his age or that were not even born when he won his first professional match in 1998.
“It’s tremendous,” he says of this stat. “Some of the people I play against weren’t even born when I started as a professional, like Carlos Alcaraz, for example. I also played with De Minaur, who is half my age. It’s logical when you’re 40 and you play with young players, because the best 18 or 19-year-olds are already at this level. Apart from the numbers, I’m happy to have had so much enjoyment from such a long career.”
It is this enjoyment that dominates Feliciano’s memories on his 40th birthday as he looks back: “Apart from the fact that I’m still competing, which is really amazing, good things have happened to me in recent years: I’ve won Queen’s twice, I’ve won the Davis Cup in Madrid, in my city, now I’m going to play the Laver Cup, who knows, maybe I’ll be able to play the Davis Cup at home again… So many good things have happened to me in recent years, that’s why I’m enjoying it so much.”