Relentless and Tough, Venus Graces a Spotlight All Her Own After Wimbledon Run

Greg CouchNational ColumnistJuly 15, 2017

Jul 13, 2017; London, United Kingdom; Venus Williams (USA) reacts during her match against Johanna Konta (GBR) on day ten at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

So this wasn't the dream ending we had in mind for Venus Williams. It wasn't the perfect bow in the final chapter of her career.

Williams, 37, still dealing with an autoimmune disease and now also fighting the emotion of her involvement in a fatal car crash, did not win Wimbledon on Saturday. She lost 7-5, 6-0 to Garbine Muguruza in the final.

She was great through most of the first set and then got nervous and then ran out of energy while a 23-year-old took control.

Let's face it: Williams fell apart.

"I think there'll be other opportunities," she said after the match. "I do."

With our best, oldest, most beloved athletes, we just want them to leave on the right note. In tennis, Pete Sampras won the U.S. Open over rival Andre Agassi, and it was the perfect goodbye.

The question with Williams is: What was this moment?

It was not an ugly one, despite the end-of-match collapse. Not in the bigger picture. She is still the feel-good story of tennis this year. Yes, the attention is also on Roger Federer, and on Serena Williams' pregnancy. But Venus had dropped from among the true elite of the game. And what has happened now?

She is back. She reached the final of the year's first major, the Australian Open, and she reached another major final, getting all the way to the most important match in the sport.

In her on-court interview after Saturday's loss, she was asked if she had any message to send to Serena.

"I tried my best to do the same things you do," she said.

She didn't need to be asked about Serena. Let's let Venus have another moment that's all hers. This isn't about the Williams sisters. Only one of them was in the moment.

Yes, the Williams sisters are the great American tennis story, and Serena gobbles up attention—something Venus does not seem to want so much.

These whole two weeks at Wimbledon, Venus didn't say wild, colorful things. She was serious and focused in news conferences.

Early in the tournament, when someone asked her about the auto accident she was in, Venus got emotional during her answer and then stepped away for a few minutes to gather herself. She came back and answered more questions. That was not a show for cameras.

And what about her Sjogren's syndrome? Did she even talk about that? A few years ago, in a private moment surrounding a Fed Cup match, she told me she didn't think she would ever feel normal again—that she would have to live with a new normal. Hours later, she apparently felt she had opened up a little more than she wanted to, and one of her handlers called to say so.

She's never been one to seek the spotlight. Venus has talked so rarely through the years about what it was like being an African-American in the sport. Her father once said she came from a "ghetto," and that shocked people. She fought for equal pay for women's players—behind the scenes.

And so the only time she let us in during this Wimbledon was on the court. She won a match, jumped as high as she could, kicked her feet behind her and smiled. She did her signature twirl.

Williams congratulates Garbine Muguruza after Saturday's final point.
Williams congratulates Garbine Muguruza after Saturday's final point.Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

She might not do a lot of talking, but she has certainly lived her life in public. Everyone is always trying to find the bigger meaning in Venus because there is plenty more than what she's done on the court.

She changed the face of the sport. She stood so importantly as a symbol of grace and manners and meaning for women's sports, for fighting through a disease.

And now maybe she's a symbol, too, for what athletes can do as they get older.

This moment can be about her standing for herself for once.

Venus Williams must be the most relentless, toughest athlete out there. If there is bigger meaning in that, well, fine.

The women's game is so fractured now. At the top, Serena will be gone for a while. Victoria Azarenka is just coming back. Maria Sharapova is trying to get her game back after a doping suspension. Angelique Kerber was unable to handle the pressure of being No. 1 and is going to drop this week. Muguruza went through the same drop-off a couple of years ago. The up-and-coming women don't seem to be special.

Do you know who the world No. 1 player is going to be now?

Karolina Pliskova.

No way. Women's tennis doesn't have a best player now. But it has Venus. And she keeps fighting.

It's hard to celebrate the way things ended Saturday. But maybe the celebration is that Williams won't let it be an end at all.