© Joao Pires

Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo made history at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Samarkand.

Ramirez Hidalgo Makes Challenger History In Samarkand

The Spaniard became the oldest player to reach an ATP Challenger Tour final at the $50,000 event in Samarkand

It’s not uncommon for doubles specialists to stay on tour well into their 30s, but Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo is still playing –and winning– singles matches at age 38.

The veteran reached his first ATP Challenger Tour final in three years at this week’s $50,000 event in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Ramirez Hidalgo broke new ground with his inspired performance by becoming the oldest singles finalist in ATP Challenger Tour history at 38 years, four months (surpassing the record held since 2009 by Dick Norman at 38 years, 1 month). The championship match against 19-year-old #NextGen star Karen Khachanov, which he lost in three sets, was also the largest age gap in a final this year.

Making the feat even more impressive is that a backlog of matches due to rain forced Ramirez Hidalgo to play four singles matches in two days. Despite this, he continued to grind down with his superior fitness, outlasting 21-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan in a marathon semi-final on Friday that finished with the Spaniard blanking the Indian in a third-set tie-break.

Even though he’s now well into his 18th year on tour, Ramirez Hidalgo said he’s still as eager as ever to win.

“I’m playing in Samarkand with the same enthusiasm as if I was playing the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Rome,” said Ramirez Hidalgo. “I still love to play and compete, so if I can’t do it in Rome, I’ll look to do it wherever I can. I’m fortunate to still be able to pursue the game that has always been my first love.”

The Spaniard is also closing in on another record this year. He is just nine match wins away from becoming the first player to win 400 matches on the ATP Challenger Tour.

"To reach that number would mean that I spent many years of my life playing the sport I love and can take many good moments that will remain with me," said Ramirez Hidalgo. "I don't know if they'll remain in the memory of the fans, but they will definitely remain in mine."

Ramirez Hidalgo is still able to produce consistent results on the ATP Challenger Tour. He reached the semi-finals of the $50,000 event this January in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and posted quarter-final showings at three other events. He’s also still showing the new generation of upcoming players that age has little to do with ability; at last month’s ATP Challenger Tour event in Nanjing, China, Ramirez Hidalgo handily defeated #NextGen star Yoshihito Nishioka in the opening round.

Although he acknowledges that he’s in the latter stages of his career, the Spaniard is determined to make his pro career last for as long as it possibly can.

“At 38, I’m trying to enjoy my last matches because I’m aware that my career has an end and that my end is getting closer every time,” said Ramirez Hidalgo. “People ask me why I still keep doing this at my age and it’s simply because I love what I do. Every match is still enjoyable, just like when I was a kid.”

When he decides to stop playing, he’ll have plenty to keep occupied between the academy he runs with former ATP World Tour pro Santiago Ventura in Alicante, Spain, and his two daughters that he raises with his wife, Christina. Perhaps most importantly, though, he’ll be able to walk away without any regrets.

“Tennis has given me more than I could have ever imagined,” said Ramirez Hidalgo.. I’m able to say that I was able to travel the world and play every major tournament I watched on television when I was growing up. I had the chance to live what I dreamed about as a child.”

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