Off the court, Venus Ebony Starr Williams is striving to be the perfect 11. She had this to say about the relaunch of Eleven, her clothing line: “Eleven is really about being better than a 10. It’s bringing your personal best which makes you an 11, and not accepting the standards of what is considered the best.” Is it possible to read that and not think about the member of the fictional band Spinal Tap as he explains in the spoof movie why his amplifier can be turned up to 11: “It’s one louder than 10.”
And what about on the court? An imperfect seven would be great, as would an imperfect six or even a five. It is notoriously difficult predicting Venus’s next moves, and no one is entirely sure what to expect from the former world number one as she plays her first tournament for six months, since last season’s US Open (she played some doubles for America in the Fed Cup last month). Venus has been dealing with an auto-immune disease which leaves sufferers low on energy, and there was an admission the other day that there are limitations to what she can do.
It has worked out that Venus has relaunched her playing career at the same time she is rebooting her clothing designs – her tops, skirts and leggings have not been available for a few years – and her prospects in retail would appear to be stronger than her future trying to gather ranking points and prize-money on the tennis court.
“I’m feeling better every week, and having some adrenalin gives me more energy,” Williams said. “Instead of trying to run through a wall, I try to step back and be smart. That’s what I have learned. Sometimes you can’t just keep going. I have to remember to slow down.”
It doesn’t sound as though Venus the tennis player will be trying to spin that dial to 11.
There are other comeback stories around in south Florida. Alisa Kleybanova, a former top-20 player from Russia, is at her first tournament since recovering from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (“my dream has come true right now – I’m back on the court again”). Kim Clijsters will be making a mini-comeback, with Miami her first tennis since defeat in the semi-finals of January’s Australian Open, as will Serena Williams, who will also be playing her first ranking tournament since she lost in the fourth round at Melbourne Park. But it is likely to be Venus who attracts the most attention.
Marat Safin, once one of the sport’s libertines, is reportedly engaged to a model. This is turning out to be quite a post-tennis transformation for the Russian, already a politician. Whoever would have predicted that, so soon after retirement, Marat would have a seat in the Duma and a wife?