Sunday, June 23, 2024

Venus Williams: Permission to Retire Officially Granted | PHOTOs

2023 US Open Results Sound the Alarm

Venus Williams (Hannah Peters-Getty)
Venus Williams (Hannah Peters-Getty)

*Venus Williams, along with her baby sister, Serena Williams, has no doubt left an indelible mark on women’s tennis.  Venus and Serena – one name rarely spoken without the other – have brought their “lights out” hitting style to the sport and have literally changed the way the game is played. All the power and jaw-dropping athleticism that we enjoy now from WTA players is due in large part to the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ’em” saying that the sisters, Compton born and raised, forced the ladies to adopt. 

But can you believe that was nearly 30 years ago? 

30 years is a very long time in any sport. And, depending on what young age a budding athlete starts, a 30-year career could easily put said athlete somewhere around 40, 45 years old. That’s too old to still be risking life, limb, and reputation to compete. Father Time – who no opponent has ever beaten – has typically started doing some hard tapping on the shoulder around that age, signaling that it’s time to step aside and pass the torch to the next generation. But anomalies do exist. 

Serena was one such anomaly. 

Serena Williams was able to compete at a very high level well into her 30s. She notched her last Grand Slam win (Australian Open) at age 35, and while expecting. She even went on to make four more finals in the two years that followed. But not being able to get over the hump to raise any of those trophies, even she knew it was about time to call it quits. She was only extending her career in the first place due to that “carrot” of winning her 24th Grand Slam. The achievement would’ve equaled the most ever by any player, man or woman, a record currently held by Australian Margaret Court. She conceded that age was getting the better of her, however, and gracefully bowed out in 2022. Novak Djokovic is that anomaly on the men’s side, still competing at the highest level at 37 and winning Slams, but the light shoulder taps are starting even for him. 

Venus Williams in action during a women's singles match at the 2023 US Open - (Simon Bruty/USTA)
Venus Williams in action during a women’s singles match at the 2023 US Open – (Simon Bruty/USTA)

But getting back to Venus, since she and Serena’s careers ran parallel, you can’t help but wonder when will she embrace the fact that her time has come.

Venus Williams has always been one to keep her innermost thoughts close to her vest, so her career goals haven’t been as apparent as Serena’s. But there’s something in her mind – or heart – that’s keeping her holding on. She doesn’t have “the greatest” laurels to rest on and that her little sister has, but her achievements aren’t chopped liver either. It often gets lost in the Serena coverage, but she was the second most winningest active woman on the WTA tour before Serena left … and now she is the most. She has claimed seven Grand Slam titles, two at the US Open and five at Wimbledon. That’s more than enough to guarantee her a spot in the sport’s hall of fame. But that’s apparently not enough for her; at 43 years of age – she’s still entering tournaments … though the results have consistently declined, now to the point of *insert my opinion* legacy tarnishing levels.

And this year’s US Open result was the worst in her career.

Last Tuesday night in Flushing Meadows, Venus took to center court at prime time (on a wildcard entry, her “legend” status earned her that slot) and was … well, slaughtered by a qualifier, 6-1, 6-1. She hadn’t had a first-round result at the US Open that brutally decisive since she went pro. Whereas the crowd would usually be cheering for her to win sets, they were relegated to cheering for her to simply win a single point or hold her serve (she once held the fastest women’s serve record, clocking 129 mph in her prime). But on the night, her first serve seldom found the service box (67%), which exposed her career-long, pummel-primed weak second serve (only 15% points won on the night). Those percentages worked against her and the Belgian qualifier, Greet Minnen, capitalized. She looked great, but that match was awkward to watch. 

Venus Williams poses with Greet Minnen - (Simon Bruty/USTA)
Venus Williams poses with Greet Minnen – (Simon Bruty/USTA)

Being the incredible sportswoman that she is, she took the beating on the chin, though. 

Venus has always handled losses with grace. No racquet smashes, seldom bristly in post-match press sound conferences, she quietly goes back to the drawing board. And I’d say that’s because she always looks to learn and just move forward. Even during this latest loss, her fist pumps and come-ons at 1-6, 1-5 down indicated that she had the “never say die” mantra on repeat in her mind and heart. But her opponent was none phased and easily served the match out, winning in just 74 minutes. Despite her tenacity, she was simply and obviously short of the tools necessary to put her thoughts into action. The crowd cheered her on, but it was out of sympathy, which, frankly, gets my goat. 

It was her 100th appearance at the US Open.

Being the accomplished, strong, and powerful black queen that she is, should she really be in the position of coming off as a sympathetic figure? I’d say NO, as, to me, that compromises an otherwise incredible legacy. Do we really want to see our heroes and sheroes in these streets looking weak?? I certainly don’t.

But weak is exactly how she looked out there.

Nobody would deny that Venus was a force as a professional tennis player. But her time seems to have passed … and that’s based on the facts. She hasn’t won a tournament in years and it’s rare that she survives the first round.  Sure, we could wax emotional and say, “as long as she loves what she’s doing she should …” and yada yada, but the hard truth is, she’s done – on court. If she stops and looks around, she’ll likely find that she has no contemporaries left in the game. And that’s for a reason: they all heeded the cues and bowed out with dignity – and none have her legacy to tout. 

But being done “on court” is not the end of her story. 

At 43, you still have a fair amount of physical virility and a considerable amount of wisdom to kick life straight in the carcass. And in Venus’ case, specifically, she has demonstrated that along with her athletic prowess, she is working with a formidable IQ and other gifts. From leaning on the sport to furthering the cause of equal prize money for women (US Open is currently celebrating 50 years of equality) to her endeavors outside of tennis (interior design degree, business owner, savvy investor, etc.), her “after tennis” future is extremely bright. Shaking “what her mama *and daddy* gave her has already earned her a guarded spot in history books and she can continue shaking it to new doors and unearth new opportunities. 

Leaving tennis wouldn’t leave THE Venus Williams twiddling her thumbs in obscurity. 

All that said, I love … WE love  … you Venus Williams and we have enjoyed the excitement, grace and PRIDE you’ve brought to the game of tennis and us as a phenomenal black athlete. But it’s time to for you to let it go and take your place as a former great and move on to your next chapter because I’m certain there’s more. Retiring – and yes, I’m officially retiring you Venus Williams – won’t at all take away from your accomplishments or respect. You are one of our beloved luminaries, one of our black queens, and I think we’d all be ok with you walking away with her head held high, shoulders squared and that well-earned crown affixed. And most importantly, fights you’ve fought have helped build a bridge for the Coco Gauffs and Naomi Osakas of the world; relish that legacy. 

This is my official retirement permission slip … fight me. 

RELATED NEWS ON EURWEB: Venus Williams WINS Her First Singles Match Since 2021 | WATCH

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