Despite her Wimbledon loss, Venus Williams continues to gracefully rage against the clock
‘The first time you win, nobody picks you. The last time you win, nobody picks you. You just have to pick yourself’
Two set points in hand.
This is it, Venus. This is your moment. This is your time.
Down 5-7, 0-1.
Serve broken again.
This is it, Venus. Here is where you step it up. This is your time.
Down 5-7, 0-5.
Garbine Muguruza is serving for the match, up 40-0.
This is it, Venus. The dream run is over. You are out of time.
It was a painful end to what began as a promising match. At 5-5 in the first set, it looked as if we were destined for a tiebreaker, maybe an all-time classic. However, as the 6-0 score would indicate, the second set was much more difficult to watch. If Venus Williams converts one of those set points, then perhaps Muguruza gets tight. Maybe Williams finds the strength to make it across the finish line. There’s a chance the word “sentimental” would no longer precede the word “favorite” when her name is mentioned. It’s been nine years since Williams has won a major. She will always be a draw at these events, but this may have been her last shot to leave one with the championship trophy.
Two set points slipped out of Williams’ hands, and it’s doubtful she will ever forget them.
“The first time you win, nobody picks you,” she said afterward. “The last time you win, nobody picks you.
“You just have to pick yourself.”
It’s an expression of defiance other aging champions have uttered when confronted with nagging questions about their age and thoughts of retirement. Roger Federer has certainly given some variation of that response over the years, and yet here he is entering Sunday’s final having not dropped a set in the tournament and sporting a 30-2 record on the season. At some point, it will be over for him. Clearly, that time isn’t soon.
For Williams, it’s different. She hasn’t been nearly as consistent in the latter parts of her career as Federer or her sister, Serena. The painful truth is when she loses early in a major tournament it is no longer a shock or considered an upset. This is why her runs to the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year were not only unexpected but precious gems. Federer is going to be back. Serena is going to be back. But Venus?
We sometimes forget, she was No. 1 first.
She dominated the Olympics first.
Wimbledon was her stage first.
Venus has been the best player of her generation not named Serena Williams. And yet, because of Serena, the contributions to the game she has made over the past two decades are often reduced to a footnote. She introduced the current level of athleticism into the women’s game. She dealt with the fallout of her father’s bold words and the subtle racism in media coverage. When we talk about the prize money on tour, we’re too quick to ignore that it was the lanky, dark-skinned girl from Compton who fought for equal pay in a predominantly white sport that wasn’t always kind to lanky, dark-skinned girls from Compton.
And she did it all with grace.
Even in dealing with the fallout from the fatal car accident she was involved in, she was willing to take questions in a room full of reporters and talk honestly about the impact it had on her. We’ve seen athletes in other sports bow out of taking a couple of questions after a regular-season loss.
Saturday was supposed to be about claiming some of the shine due to her. However, over the course of Saturday’s match, the 37-year-old went from looking like the Venus of old to looking like an old Venus, desperately trying to stay on the court as Muguruza’s powerful groundstrokes pushed her withering body around. Williams finished with 25 unforced errors, the last being a backhand that sailed long. Initially it was ruled in, but Muguruza challenged. And before the review was complete you could tell from the look on Williams’ face that she knew the match was over.
The 23-year-old Spaniard, who had only 11 unforced errors for the match, had a similar brilliant performance against Serena Williams in the 2016 French Open final. Of course, the difference is Serena, with a record 23 major singles titles, has more than three times as many majors as Venus, who hasn’t won one since 2008. Had Venus won today, she would’ve been the oldest woman to win Wimbledon in the Open era. After today, it appears more likely that Serena will return from hiatus and claim that piece of history than it is to imagine that Venus will return a year from now to win it all.
A 5-4 lead, two set points in hand, another opportunity missed.
Hopefully it wasn’t her last.