Venus and Serena Williams have never been held to the same standards as other athletes in their sport. They were the ones who were meant to win rooms full of trophies in singles, doubles and mixed—most of which they did—and in turn have become two of the most storied tennis players in the history of the game.
But as Venus, now 32, has hobbled along a 2013 schedule littered with disappointing losses and a flurry of last-minute withdrawals due to a nagging back injury, the standard she can’t help be compared to is the one she helped develop herself: Serena.
At 31, the younger Williams sister has continued to be the dominant force in women’s tennis, each week entering into another tournament as the “one to beat;” some calling her the greatest of all time.
So while Venus might have a few years—and desire—left in her tank, it’s time for her to hang up the laces on the singles court, unless she wants to risk marring what has been one of the most dominant careers the game has ever seen.
The numbers tell much of the story for Venus. Between 1998 and 2005, she won 33 of her 44 career titles. But since then—in the last seven years—the American has captured just 11, including none in 2011. It marked the first time since 1997 that Venus hadn't won at least one title on tour. Fourteen years.
And while Venus' star has continued to wane, its Serena's that has continued to shine, and extremely bright.
It’s that simple: If there were no Serena, then Venus should play on. But fact is there is a Serena (there always has been) and with the now 15-time major champion (to Venus’ seven) showing no sign of slowing down, the gap between the sisters is growing in a host of categories, including ranking (1 to 24), titles (50 to 44) and overall tennis talent (Serena thumped Venus the last time they played in April 6-1, 6-2, the most lopsided match in their 24 meetings).
It was a marked event, that match in April. The media played it up as a massive showdown as the sisters would meet for the first time in four years, but it was also the first time they faced one another since Venus was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Sjogren's syndrome, which has left Venus sapped of energy at times on the court, trying to fight an aging body that also is downright exhausted at times.
In Charleston, the sisters played a day after they had played back-to-back matches because of rain, and Serena noted that Venus was more tired from the schedule than she'd admit.
"I mean she'll never admit it, ever, but I don't think she was 100 percent," Serena told reporters. "But you will never get that out of her, and quite frankly, three matches for her is much tougher than three matches for me. And so you know, it's definitely not easy, because I'm struggling, and I can't imagine what she must be feeling."
Yet tennis fans should not fear: Venus has proclaimed that she wants to play through the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, which she should—but only in doubles, and mixed doubles at the Grand Slams.
Last year, she and Serena captured gold in doubles at the London Games in a moment Venus described as one of the best of her life. Together, the sisters have won 13 majors alongside one another, still the force to be reckoned with in tennis’ team game.
That’s the lifestyle Venus needs: continuing to grow her EleVen fashion line in tennis and beyond, managing new off-court ventures like her Jamba Juice stores, her interest in Billie Jean King’s World TeamTennis and play the occasional doubles match.
Not just play. Win. Venus Williams is a winner. It’s just time for her to walk away as such, and keep one foot on the (doubles) court while figuring out that her life outside tennis is much richer than losing in the first round in Rome, like she did this week.
Olga Puchkova. Elena Vesnina. Those are just two names of many that Venus has lost to in the last year—and beyond—that she just shouldn’t have. She can’t hold herself to the same standard anymore, so step away, V; it’s the right thing to do.