In most families anyone who has already won seven major titles would be the most famous member. When you add being a pioneer for both Black tennis players and women seeking pay equity in sports, it would seem impossible that anyone with those credentials could ever be eclipsed or overlooked.
But even when Venus Williams was beginning her career, her proud father Richard was telling the tennis world he had another daughter he considered an even better prospect for stardom. The rest became history, as Serena Williams has emerged as arguably the greatest woman player (some would argue best period) in history.
As the Australian Open, the first major of the 2017 tennis season continues this week, the biggest story remains Serena Williams’ quest for a 23rd major title. That would break the tie with Steffi Graf for second all time, and allow her to aim at Margaret Court’s record of 25.
However a second story emerged Sunday. Venus Williams won 6-3, 7-5 over Mona Barthes in the tournament’s fourth round. That put her into the quarterfinals for the ninth time. She is now the only player in her quarter of the draw. She faced number 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Williams hasn’t made it past the Australian Open quarters since 2003, when she lost to Serena. But through Sunday Venus hadn’t lost a set. In her win over Mona Barthes she got 90 percent of her points on first serves. She had 30 winners and four aces, with zero double faults.
At 36, no one expects much anymore from Venus Williams, unless she is paired in doubles competition with Serena. She has battled illness, injuries and the inevitable affects of aging. She first made the Australian Open quarterfinals almost 20 years ago (1998), an eternity in any sport and almost two for tennis. While Serena remains a prominent title threat, many have been awaiting a retirement announcement from Venus. But she sounded anything but done Sunday after her victory,
“I was really challenged to play my best tennis,” Williams said. “It’s wonderful to get through to the quarterfinals against an opponent who’s on fire. This is what you do all the hard work in the offseason for. It’s wonderful to be able to advance even further.”
That hardly is the kind of talk coming from anyone who has lost their competitive fire, or is nearing the end in their mind. She seems every bit as eager and anxious to win as ever, and is giving no indication retirement is around the corner.
No matter how she does the rest of the way in Melbourne, Venus Williams stature and importance are secure. But one or two more Grand Slam titles would be a great addition to a glittering legacy.