Henry turned 100 in September.

“Make the most of your retirement, you’ve worked for it and earned it, don’t vegetate, it’s time to enjoy life,” Australian Henry Young told the Bulletin. At the age of 100, he is the oldest competing tennis player in the world and is currently playing in the 2023 ITF Masters World Individual Championships in Capdepera.

Young by name and young by nature, Henry won his opening singles match in the over 90s category on Tuesday, only to go on and lose the doubles. But he was back in action on Wednesday against the world number three, Britain’s Gordon Oats, in the quarter finals, before another two doubles matches and more games as the tournament continues.

Henry, who turned 100 in September, is a former Spitfire pilot and soldier-settler farmer.

Henry celebrating his 100th birthday on September 26 this year. Photos: the Young family

Fleet Air Arm

Born in Glenelg near Adelaide, his family relocated to New Zealand where he enlisted for service as a 19-year-old in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy as war broke out. He served with both the British and Australian navies during and after World War II. After the war, he applied for soldier-settler land in New Zealand but missed out and instead transferred to the Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm, and – around that time – met his wife Madge to whom he was married for 72 years.

“I remember when I proposed I gave her two choices, ‘marry an airline pilot or a farmer’. She chose farmer on the grounds she would get to see more of me,” Henry told the Bulletin this week.
““I started putting in for soldier-settler blocks and every one I put in for, there were 2,000 others vying for the same.

“Then I heard about the Australian Mutual Provident Society (AMP) land development scheme near Keith, in South Australia’s southeast, and we couldn’t get there fast enough.” Henry bought a truck and built a canopy on the back, then set off for farmland at Sherwood, near Keith.

“We had five and a half years in a bush hut, with no electricity,” he said.

“It was an exciting time and we all seemed to thrive – it was a bit like a collective farm with all of us soldier settlers in the community at that time and it was an important time for Australia. We developed a booming lamb and wool industry which was good for the emerging economy, jobs and the communities at large. Plus we were making something out of very inhospitable land,” he said.

Henry (right) is playing singles and doubles at the 2023 ITF Masters World Individual Championships in Capdepera this week.

Skiing at 97

But Henry had always been active. “I played tennis at school, but then moved on to squash after joining the forces and also took up skiing. I am a member of the Royal Navy ski club but I was sadly forced to give up skiing three years ago (aged 97); it was getting too much on the body. But just like tennis, I love skiing. In fact I’m a better skier than I am a tennis player,” he said.

“And when I retired at the age of 70 I took up tennis again. I play three times per week at and for my club in Adelaide. And on Sundays I play with my sons and a coach, it’s a family affair,” he said after a session with a physio ahead of the day’s matches in Mallorca.

“But what really bugs me is that so many of my friends give up their tennis when they get something like a tennis elbow and that’s ridiculous. Just look at me, I’m still playing tennis. I’ve got two new knees, new hips, a pacemaker, hearing aids - but that’s mainly due to all of my years on the flight decks with the aircraft engines - two new noses and I’m still playing and enjoying it. I think particularly when you are very old it’s nice to have something that keeps you active and I’ll keep playing until I start embarrassing my doubles partners. I think I’ve got a few years left in me yet.

Playing the Australian Open

“And with people living longer nowadays, I’m sure I’ll be the first of many who will follow in my footsteps and will go on to keep playing tennis at my age. But it’s nice to have become the first. People are taking so many pictures of me, I think I should start charging,” he joked.

What’s my secret? Well there are two I guess. Wholesome thoughts and no fast women; so that cuts out all my friends. No seriously, I look after my diet, I watch that. I eat a lot of honey, wheat and milk plus I get through about six litres of Farmers’ Union iced coffee a month. It’s with skimmed milk and I was reading recently how important good dairy products are for one’s health. My wife used to love the coffee as well, that’s what helped to keep us going,” Henry said. And earlier this year, aged 99, he played at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Rafa Nadal

“That was something I will never forget; it was the real pinnacle of my tennis career. I played in The Clash of the Centurions - organised by a close friend of mine - which was part of the Australian Open’s Tennis Plays for Peace charity spectacular preceding the start of the January tournament. To walk along that tunnel, to then come out into the arena, looking at the portraits of all the greatest players along the way - you can see the light at the end of the tunnel - and to come out into the open with 15,000 people applauding, it’s a memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life. And it was when I met Rafa Nadal. We had pictures taken and all that; it was an experience of a lifetime.

“I played against the then 98-year-old Ukrainian Leonid Stanislavskyi, well played. I have to admit it was more of a knockabout but it was amazing and for such a good cause,” Henry added.
Henry is a very popular figure and has received a hero’s welcome in Mallorca, while he has also been inundated with photo requests and well wishes from fellow players, tournament officials and tennis fans.

His appearance at the World Championships aged 100 is true testament to tennis being a competitive sport for life. It also supports research which suggests active participation in racket sports, and tennis in particular, has proven health benefits and can extend life expectancy.

Just go for it

I’ve had a wonderful life, I’ve been extremely lucky, it’s been hard work but I’ve earned it and it’s all about the life inside you. I suppose I’m not only a role model for longevity but the medical profession as well. And while I have my advice for fellow retirees, what I would say to young people is to have determination.

“Make sure you’re better than the average person. It’s a bit like tennis when you compete, get to know where you are in the hierarchy and the system will tell you where you have to go and what you need to concentrate your efforts on.

“Just go for it. There’s so much out there, there are so many opportunities. Like we say in Australia, ‘give it a fair go’.

“If you work hard for what you want, then the rewards will come. I’m not saying it’s an easy life, but enjoy it to the full,” Henry said.