She walked across the court late on a gray and overcast afternoon with the wiggling gait that has become all too familiar to tennis fans over the past 25 years. Slinging her tennis bag over her shoulder, she pulled the ends of an elastic band at the last minute to add some stretch to her upper body.
Venus Williams, a five-time Wimbledon singles champion and nine-time finalist, was back on Center Court Monday at age 43, one of the oldest women to win a main draw singles match at the sport’s oldest Grand Slam event. Was in the race to become ,
The day did not pass like this. It ultimately left him with a limp, a scarred symbol of some undeniable truths about this era of tennis.
First: Better training, nutrition and compensation are allowing more players to extend their careers than ever before, into their late 30s and, in the Williams sisters’ case, early 40s. Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, 32, announced last month that she is returning to tennis after retiring in 2020 and the birth of two children.
Second: Unless your name is Novak Djokovic, it’s hard to stay healthy and win in this brutal sport in your late 30s and early 40s.
On Monday, the first day of Wimbledon, members of the old set were scattered throughout the All England Club, not just in the television booths. Williams took center court after Djokovic, 36, began another title defense in his usual fashion by defeating Argentina’s Pedro Cachin in straight sets. American player John Isner, 38, lost in four sets to Spain’s Jaume Munar on Court 16, but after two ends, on Court 18, Stan Wawrinka, another 38, was giving the clincher to Emile Rusuvuori, giving him was kicked out. The 24-year-old Finn in straight sets.
Williams failed in her attempt, losing 6–4, 6–3 to Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, in which Williams injured her right knee early in the match. Williams never regained the form she showed in the first few minutes of the match, when she took an early lead and indicated that the old guard might win. Last month, Williams, ranked 558 in the world, beat Italy’s Camilla Giorgi in a third-set tiebreaker in Birmingham, England, to beat a top-50 player for the first time in four years.
The win helped Williams gain a wild-card entry into the Wimbledon tournament, which she won five out of nine matches from 2000 to 2008. She most recently made it to the women’s singles final in 2017, and has given no indication that she is hinting at a definitive end.
“I’m a competitor,” a dejected Williams said at the post-match press conference. “This is what I do for a living.”
She has been doing this since the age of 14.
Playing on grass that had been smoothed by an afternoon rain shower and damp in the air all day, Williams came out to serve and hit hard, flat shots to the back of the court. She broke Svitolina’s serve in the second game. But facing break point in the third game, Williams stormed the net and then fell to the grass with a scream as she grabbed her right knee, which was wrapped in a support band.
Williams lay on the ground for several minutes, with Svitolina placing a towel under her head for support. It looked as if Williams’ afternoon would end there. But she got up and limped to her chair, where an instructor checked on her. Afterwards, his movement was much more limited than in the first two games.
She wobbled through points and struggled to generate power from her groundstrokes and her serve, which has long been a hallmark of her game but required the ability to push and torque with the lower half of her body. it occurs. His first serve speed dropped from 115 mph at the start of the match to the mid-90s.
Williams said, “I was literally killing it – then the grass killed me.” “It’s not fun right now.”
There was an eerie familiarity to the sequence of events. Two years ago, her sister Serena took to the same court for her first round match at age 39 in search of her eighth Wimbledon title. The effort lasted only six games: Serena Williams had to withdraw in the first round due to an ankle injury.
Serena Williams returned to Wimbledon last year to mark the beginning of the last summer of professional tennis, although who knows these days. She lost in the first round that evening in three sets, in what felt like a farewell.
What was shocking about her big sister’s match on Monday was how little it seemed like a finale, and how defiant Venus Williams seemed as she went on to challenge every athlete regardless of her ability. But she was facing the effects of old age.
She said she was shocked to be injured, although older athletes are more prone to injuries.
“I can’t believe this happened,” he said. “It’s, like, bizarre.”
She was upset with how the match ended. On match point, Svitolina hit a ball that was ruled out, but the chair umpire awarded her the match when the Hawk-Eye system showed that the ball was in. Williams’ return shot went wide, and the umpire ruled that the point would not be replayed. Williams did not shake hands with the umpire after the match.
He said the injury was so painful that it prevented him from concentrating. She said she had never thought of stopping and that she would get her knee tested on Tuesday. Moments later, she spoke about the difficulty of dealing with another injury after recovering from a hamstring injury at the start of the year.
He has been missing from the tour for some time. This is not what she wanted for herself in her early 40s.
“Hopefully I can understand what’s happening to me and move on,” she added.
For nearly 30 years, it’s meant only one thing: back on the tennis court.