After Roger Federer took his turn complimenting Williams’ dominance on Saturday afternoon, he pivoted to her sister.
“Also Venus, I must say,” Federer said. “We don’t talk about Venus that often because Serena has been so dominant. Actually, that they’re both still playing is more of a surprise to me. But that they are playing, it doesn’t surprise me they’re actually playing well. It goes hand in hand. I wouldn’t imagine them still playing and playing poorly. Let’s put it that way. They’re too good for that.”
Neither is playing poorly, but it’s not fair to either to equate their recent results. Though the sisters have been lumped together throughout their careers for obvious reasons, top-ranked Serena has remained in the game’s upper echelon while Venus has been outside the top 10 since 2011. While still solidly ranked inside the top 20 at No16, Venus has struggled to reach the halfway mark at the same major tournaments Serena continues to dominate.
Seven years removed from her fifth and most recent Wimbledon title and all the “Venus in Orbit” headlines that accompanied each of her high-flying major triumphs, Williams’ results have been decidedly earthbound. But unlike the stagnant Lleyton Hewitt, who has final killed off his atrophying career by announcing that this will be his final Wimbledon, Williams has still shown flashes of greatness more than occasionally, despite turning 35 earlier this month. She won a tournament in Auckland and reached the Australian Open quarter-finals in January, and compiled a solid 18-4 record this year before the tour shifted to her least favored clay.
On grass, where Williams is always at her best, is a particularly apt time to celebrate both her past and present.
“It was one of only twice in my career where I felt like I really didn’t know what to do,” said Jill Craybas, who was Williams’ fourth-round opponent in 2005 en route to her third Wimbledon title. “She played so well and she was on her game. She’s so long, you just feel like there’s no openings on the court. Even on the grass court, her serve was bouncing over my head.”
At Wimbledon last year, she gave eventual champion Petra Kvitova her toughest test of the tournament, before ultimately losing 5-7, 7-6, 7-5 in the third round.
Venus has another roadblock in her path this year, with Serena looming as a possible opponent in the fourth round. But at least one former opponent, retired doubles specialist Rennae Stubbs, likes her chances.
“It was really the match of the tournament here last year against Kvitova, and nobody pushed Kvitova but Venus,” said Stubbs. “In that respect, I think Venus has an outside chance to win the tournament this year. Why not? If she’s fit. She has Serena fourth round, but Serena is going to feel an unbelievable amount of pressure at this tournament. She feels it every tournament, but it’s only building, and more by the time that match rolls around. And it’s always hard for her against Venus.”
Stubbs, who lost all seven matches she played against Venus including twice at Wimbledon, said all of Williams’ weapons were even more bruising on the slick, low-bouncing grass courts of the All-England Club.
“Flat, hard, penetrative groundies, and the serve was diabolical if it was on,” said Stubbs. “It came through at you at a pace that you didn’t see from any other player, because of her height. She could bomb it down at 120mph at you, and then slide it away on the forehand side with that nasty sliding serve, and a lot of players didn’t know whether to move forward or back.”
Stubbs has seen Williams slow since the fatigue-causing autoimmune disorder Sjogren’s syndrome which she was diagnosed with in 2011, but believes there’s no doubting her heart.
“She’s got to feel good, that’s important for her to wake up and feel good,” said Stubbs. “We know she has the desire. There’s not many greater champions, and there’s no one in the draw who’s won more than her, except for Serena.”
Despite her major-title haul of seven being second only to Serena’s 20 among active players, and her five titles here tied for first with Serena, Venus was relegated to No3 Court for her opening match at the tournament this year against 36th-ranked Madison Brengle. It is not the first time a Williams has been perceptibly slighted by organizers at the tournament, something which two-time Wimbledon women’s doubles champion Stubbs has taken note of.
“It might be a little bit controversial, but I think that the Williams sisters have not been treated the best here all the time. There’s been times where Serena has been out on No2 Court, and I’m just blown away by that. Somebody who has won as many grand slam titles as she has deserves to be on Centre Court every match, except from time-to-time on No1 Court.”
Stubbs believes the longevities on tour of both Williams sisters should be especially appreciated, considering how many other players have ended careers at much younger ages.
“I’ve always thought that they were underappreciated in general. Let’s hope people appreciate them. Me personally, I’m just happy they’re still around, because they add something so special to the tour. Great champions are usually done by 30. Look how many we’ve lost: Henin, Capriati, Clijsters, Mauresmo. Graf was done by 29, right after she won the French. It’s great that they’ve dealt with the fact that they haven’t won every time and still came back and wanted to play.
“Especially Venus; She just keeps going. She’s never wanted the praise, she’s never had a pat-my-back attitude. She’s just Venus. When you’re around her, you know. She’s just a great ambassador for our sport.”
This article was written by Ben Rothenberg at Wimbledon, for theguardian.com on Sunday 28th June 2015 20.37 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010