Every athlete eventually will be defeated by age. While some like Tom Brady or Lebron James seem to defy the usual impact of getting older (though this year James started to show signs of its effect), even they eventually will have to give way to younger replacements. But nowhere is this topic being discussed more lately than in the tennis world, mainly because two of its greatest legends are now facing constant questions about retirement.
Venus and Serena Williams have been the greatest sister act in sports history period. Their influence and accomplishments aren’t just tennis achievements, they’re cultural milestones that go far beyond singles and doubles titles. They have been champions for racial and gender equality in a sport that’s always had a country club/elitist culture. They have been role models for women athletes everywhere, and particularly for Black women athletes. The Williams sisters have also done it their own way, often irritating and infuriating those in the sports structure who prefer that athletes be meek, mild and speak only in comfortable cliches without ever offending anyone or displaying any personality other than being upset at losing a match.
At the end of this year Venus will be 41 and Serena 40. Both were eliminated early last week in the French Open. There were multiple stories (all false thus far) claiming that Venus Williams would announce her retirement following first round singles and doubles losses. Then after Serena Williams lost her fourth round match to Elena Rybakina there were stories claiming that the upcoming Wimbledon represented her last chance at getting the elusive 24th Grand Slam title that would tie her with Margaret Court for all-time Grand Slam tournament victories.
Well, even if Williams doesn’t get that 24th, she’s proven herself the greatest individual women’s tennis player ever. Competing in the Open era against the best in the world at all times, she’s done amazing things. She’s been ranked number one eight times, and overall 319 weeks, third all-time. At one point she tied the record for most weeks at number one, staying there for 186 consecutive weeks. She continues to be competitive, often facing players like Rybakina who weren’t even born when she began her career. Still, she has finished second four times since her last Slam win in 2017.
The odds are certainly against her, but Williams refuses to concede that and said after her French Open loss that she was looking ahead to Wimbledon. Meanwhile Venus Williams offered a defiant comment to those who question her continuing to play, particularly those in the tennis media.
“For me personally, how I deal with it (media speculation and criticism) was that I know every single person asking me a question can’t play as well as I can, and never will. So, no matter what you say, or what you write, you will never light a candle to me. So, that’s how I deal with it, but each person deals with it differently.”
Both she and Serena have earned the right to retire when they choose and in the manner they see fit. They will have certainly left more of a mark on both the sports and overall world than any of their critics.-