These players thrive with age

Tennis is touted as the sport for a lifetime. Lately, some of the game's elite elders have shown substantial shelf life later in their careers.

Advancing age can directly correlate to declining performance. Though blowing out 30 candles on a birthday cake may lead to shortness of breath, it no longer extinguishes hope of championship contention.

Growing older does not make life easier on the pro circuit. A lifetime of match mileage tends to wreak wear and tear on the body. Players do not recover as quickly from exhausting matches, and injuries can be much more problematic. As players begin to settle down in domesticity, the joys of chasing their children around the backyard can be more rewarding than the pressures of pursuing the bouncing ball.

A parade of past champions -- Pancho Gonzalez, Billie Jean King, Virginia Wade, Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Connors, Ken Rosewall and Andre Agassi to name a few -- played championship tennis at advanced ages. As the physicality of the game grows considerably more demanding, tennis' geriatric generation is keeping pace with the game's young guns.

In 2011, several veterans advanced the cause for the senior set in transforming retirement age into the age of revival.

"I'm happy I'm getting older. I'd rather be 30 than 20, to be honest," said Roger Federer, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Aug. 8. "Do you listen to your body more? Yes, you do. Are you more wise? Yes, you are. Are you more experienced? Yes. Do you have a thousand matches in your body? Yes, you do. You just go with what you have."

Federer showed more spring in his step than some of his younger rivals down the stretch. He went 25-3 after turning 30, closing the season on a torrid tear in winning 17 straight matches and three titles to surpass Andy Murray for the season-ending No. 3 ranking.

Eleven years after turning pro, 29-year-old David Ferrer shows no signs of slowing down. He won two titles, knocked off then-world No. 1 Rafael Nadal en route to the Australian Open semifinals, played a pivotal role on Spain's Davis Cup championship squad and finished the season ranked No. 5.

Playing with more variety than many of his younger peers, Mardy Fish, 30, joined Federer and Ferrer in the ATP's year-end top 10. It was a season in which Fish became the top-ranked American for the first time, reached the Wimbledon quarters for the first time and claimed his sixth career title in Atlanta.

The last woman older than 30 to reign at Roland Garros was Chris Evert, who was 31 when she won the last of her seven titles in 1986. This year, 31-year-old Francesca Schiavone reached her second straight French Open final where the defending champ lost to 29-year-old Li Na, who became the first Asian player to win a major singles title and the fifth-oldest woman to win a first Grand Slam title in the Open era. They were the oldest French Open finalists (a combined 60 years, 79 days) since 1986 when Evert edged Navratilova (61 years, 37 days combined). It marked a record sixth straight women's major championship match where both finalists were at least 25.

Petra Kvitova stopped the senior streak by winning Wimbledon at age 21, solidifying her status as a future No. 1, but she wasn't the only Czech champion at SW19. At the tender age of 35, Kveta Peschke won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon partnering with Katarina Srebotnik to collect the doubles crown and rising to co-No. 1 afterward.

Competing at ages when many of their contemporaries have called it quits, Lisa Raymond, 38, and Liezel Huber, 35, captured the U.S. Open doubles title as Huber ended the season as the top-ranked doubles player, with Raymond ranked fourth.

Weeks before celebrating her 30th birthday, Serena Williams produced an 18-match winning streak to advance to her fifth U.S. Open final.

Then there's Kimiko Date-Krumm, seemingly still guzzling from tennis' fountain of youth at the age of 41. Though she struggled to gain traction in WTA events, Date-Krumm closed the season reaching three straight ITF finals to finish the year ranked No. 88 a year after she became the oldest woman ever to beat a top-10 player.

Tennis' golden years could gleam bright in 2012 with the allure of an Olympic medal motivating many of these vets.