Back from the abyss, Venus vies for history
Venus Williams celebrates after winning the semi final match against Johanna Konta at Wimbledon, London on July 13. Photograph: (Reuters)
By Yash Jha
On June 9, seven-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one Venus Williams was involved in a car crash in Florida, which would lead to the death of a 78-year-old man two weeks later.
Less than a month later, on July 3, Williams was asked about the incident at the post-match press conference following her win in her first round clash at Wimbledon 2017 against Belgian Elise Mertens.
"There are really no words to describe, like, how devastating and – yeah. I’m completely speechless. It’s just – yeah, I mean, I’m just …” a visibly shaken Williams said, before breaking down and walking out of the room.
Two weeks on from the meltdown, the 37-year-old will walk out on Center Court at the All England Club in London to contest the 131st Ladies' Singles Final at Wimbledon - her ninth - knowing a win would make her the oldest female Grand Slam champion in the Open Era of tennis.
The sport, just in itself, is not all rainbows and butterflies - or strawberries and cream, to keep with the SW19 theme - and irrespective of the lessons Messrs Roger and Rafael, and Misses Serena and Venus are teaching us this year, it doesn't really get any easier on the other side of 30.
Add to that the mental strains from the incident in Florida last month, and you can see why this is history in the making - if not a tale for the ages already.
"There's definitely a lot of ups and downs, and I just try to hold my head up high. In life, in sport especially, you have injuries, you have illnesses. You're not going to always be playing a 100%, but you try to...if I decide to walk out on the court I try to just compete that day," said Williams after her knocking out of sixth seed and local favourite Johanna Konta in the semi-final.
The American was way surer, emotionally speaking, as compared to the start of the fortnight in London. She sounded every bit the woman who had been through the troughs and crests that make the roller-coaster of sport, as indeed life.
In 2003, with the Venus-Serena combine truly reigning over the women's game, the elder sister had her first serious injury (abdomen) - she dropped outside the top-ten for the first time since 1997.
In 2006, Venus missed over half the season with injuries to her wrist - she finished the year ranked 46, her lowest since 1997.
In 2011, the then-31-year-old was diagnosed with Sjögrens Syndrome, an autoimmune disease leading to fatigue, swollen joints, dry eyes, dry mouth and heavy limbs - she finished the year outside the top-100 for the first time since 1997.
The year 1997 comes up a lot, for that was when Williams first broke into the upper echelons of tennis. Yes, it's been that long - Garbine Muguruza, her opponent in Saturday's final, was barely four years old then.
The Spanish 23-year-old was still three years away from turning professional when Williams last reached the finals at Wimbledon, in 2009 (the road to redemption has been a lengthy one).
Longevity, battling odds, strength of character, sheer bloody-mindedness - all hallmarks of a champion, which the elder of the Williams sisters has been, despite having 16 lesser Slam titles than the little one. All have been on display over the years, as they have over the last fortnight, as the tenth seed made it to the summit clash having dropped just one set.
Ironically, if Williams does win on Saturday, she will be displacing a record already belonging to the family - to her biggest competitor, to her biggest inspiration.
"I miss her (Serena) so much, even more yesterday and today. And I try to take the same courage that she would have. I did think of that, and I tried to do the things she would do. I don't know that I play exactly the same way she does, but I really try to be inspired by it," Venus said two days ahead of the final.
Serena will still hold more Grand Slams, overall as well as at Wimbledon.
But Venus will return to the younger sister having vanquished her demons with a vintage display. Having pocketed a piece of indelible history. Having brought home, for a sixth time, the Venus Rosewater Dish.
Yes, that's what they call the Women's Singles silverware at Wimbledon.
Five-times Wimbledon champion Venus Williams left a news conference in tears on Monday after she was asked questions about the fatal motoring accident she was involved in that led to the death of a 78-year-old man (WION)