Five thoughts after Venus Williams loses in the first round to Elena Vesnina.
Fear has turned to sympathy. Venus’s first-round matches at Wimbledon used to be all about the dress. She would clobber her faceless opponent to the extent that the match would be a non-event, and the only subject left to talk about would be what she was wearing (last year it looked as though she had come in net-curtains ripped from the windows of her Florida home). They weren’t tennis matches so much as the occasions that she launched that summer’s dress. Those lawn-as-launch-party days are long gone. Unfortunately for her, this Monday was all about her tennis. Tony Blair had just moved into Downing Street the last time that Venus, a five-time Wimbledon champion, last lost in the opening round on these lawns. For the first time 1997, Venus is out before the tournament has really got going, and any aura that she built up has also disappeared through the wrought-iron gates. Venus lost a match, and she has also lost the ability to terrify opponents, even on the Wimbledon grass.
Now, anyone with any trace of humanity will have admiration for Venus, who has been dealing with an auto-immune condition, actually making it to Wimbledon. As Venus walked from Court Two, there was an air of sadness, as she carried her racket-bag and disappointment back to the locker-room. Venus doesn’t want sympathy (“I don’t have time to be negative”), but she’s getting it anyway.
It’s not the last that the All England Club will see of Venus – she is playing doubles with Serena, and she will back here in just a few weeks to play at the Olympics – but it would hardly be surprising if this was the last time that Venus Ebony Starr Williams competed in the singles at the Wimbledon Championships.
Perhaps it won’t be until the day that Venus announces her retirement that the Wimbledon crowds fully appreciate what Venus and Serena have achieved. is, without doubt, the best grass-court player of her generation. Whenever Serena and Venus played for the Wimbledon title there was always more sniping and conspiracy theories (their father Richard supposedly used to choose the winner over the breakfast table) than there was recognition and celebration of one family providing the two finalists.
If and when Venus decides to go, does that hasten Serena’s retirement?
Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No 3, is probably not too unhappy about Venus being out of the tournament. They could have played in the second round.