Serena Williams traveled through Frankfurt all the way to Kiev and then to Kharkiv so she could play in the Ukraine this past weekend in a consolation match for a team she doesn’t care about on a surface that doesn’t suit her in an event she has spent years avoiding. She also had a sore ankle.
It’s the same team Venus Williams traveled to Germany with last year, the U.S. Fed Cup team, saying she was available to play even though she had no intention of playing, and was too hurt to play, anyway.
There is a game being played here. Not tennis, but politics. The U.S. Tennis Association and the Williams sisters are attempting to manipulate rules and find loopholes so the faces of the sport over the past decade can play in the Olympics.
Neither Venus nor Serena has met the requirements to be eligible for the London Olympics this summer, and neither can meet them before the games. The rules and requirements were set long ago by the International Tennis Federation, and the sisters were the ones who did not follow them. So there is a real possibility that neither will be allowed to play.
REPORTING FROM WORCESTER, MASS. (Feb. 10, 2012) — This isn’t the way the Great American Tennis Story is supposed to go. Venus Williams’ story isn’t over yet, but it looks like it’s going to have the wrong ending. You’d like for it to end with a bang, with some kind of glory. She has meant a lot to a lot of people.
“I don’t know if I will ever feel normal again,” she told me this week at the US Fed Cup victory in Worcester, Mass.
“I don’t know if I will.”
Roughly half a year since she last played on tour, since she finally was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome and began treatments, Williams is about to try to come back.
She hopes to get into this summer’s London Olympics, but she will have to grind her way through the most physically demanding part of the season even though she doesn’t know how she will feel tomorrow.
Maybe the glory is in the way she’s fighting the disease that has stolen so much of her energy. She has changed to a vegan diet, and she says the medicines slowly are making her feel better.
We’re not ready for tennis’ Great American Story to end. Venus Williams deserves one last good run, one more major championship, one more leap of glory.
She’s not going to get it.
Williams is 31 years old, a senior citizen to tennis, and her body is breaking down. Injuries and health issues are taking her away from the game. On Wednesday, she withdrew from the US Open an hour before her second-round match against young German Sabine Lisicki, a Wimbledon semifinalist.
She later issued a statement saying she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, “an autoimmune disease which is an ongoing medical condition that affects my energy level and causes fatigue and joint pain. I enjoyed playing my first match here and wish I could continue, but right now I am unable to.”
She said she was just glad to finally know what’s wrong. With Sjogren’s, which usually affects women, white blood cells attack healthy glands. The disease is manageable.
But Williams’ body is betraying her now. It’s that time. And it’s just so hard for any athlete, especially a superstar, to accept. That body has always done what it was supposed to do, climbed every mountain, won every Wimbledon. It was there to be counted on, perfected.
Now, Williams has lost nearly two years of tennis because of it. She will drop out of the top 100 in the rankings, mixed in with a group of players no one has ever heard of.
Serena Williams couldn’t move to the ball. Venus Williams couldn’t hit it onto the court. This was the worst day ever at Wimbledon for the Williams sisters, and maybe their worst tennis day anywhere. For the first time, they both lost on the same day at the All England Club. Is it the end of their era, the end of their Great American tennis story?
Best bet: For Venus, it is. For Serena, it probably is not. But that’s going to be up to her. It won’t be so easy anymore, and will be about what’s inside. That’s not to question Serena’s fight, but instead her desire to commit to a game after worrying about her life. A few months ago, doctors discovered blood clots in her lungs.
“I can only get better,’’ Serena said. “That can potentially be really scary, because I can only go up from here and I can just do so much more.”
That sounds great, and she surely meant it. But the truth will come on the practice courts on hot days, and in the less-important tournaments. Those haven’t been her best places over the years. And now, she’s three months from turning 30.
In the end, maybe it was too much to ask either of them to win Wimbledon again this year.
Serena Williams is stealing the tournament. Her touching tears of joy after her first round followed by her complaints about being shoved to an outer court after her second round and then her complete domination in the third round, with this proclamation:
“Don’t bet against me.’’
The idea that this is an amazing comeback, after a year away with foot injury and then illness, is hard to argue with. But I always thought she was going to win the tournament anyway. She’s great. The rest of the tour is not. Two statements are being made here.
The question is this: Which is the more amazing comeback? Williams’ or Kim Clijsters?
Clijsters retired for a while, then had a baby, then came back. After two warmup tournaments, she won the U.S. Open. Williams had two surgeries, she said, for cut ligaments in her foot. Then, forced to sit around while she healed, blood clots formed and worked their way up into her lungs. She played one warmup tournament. Continue reading
The big question about why Serena and Venus Williams have been pushed to an outer court at Wimbledon, away from the main show courts, isn’t whether it was justified. It isn’t, so tournament officials tried to explain it away with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. The real question is this:
Was it sexist or was it racist? Or maybe both.
Serena complained about it Thursday, tweaking lightly after winning her second round match 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 over Simona Halep.
“They like to put us on Court 2, me and Venus, for whatever reason,’’ she said. “I haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out.’’
Meanwhile, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have all played their first matches on Centre Court or Court 1.
“They’re never moved across,’’ Serena said. “Actually, Venus and I have won more Wimbledons by ourselves than a lot of the players. . .So you know, at the end of the day, I don’t know. Like I said, they’re not going to change, doesn’t look like.’’
With the sharp and automatic divide that comes with anything to do with the Williams sisters, it’s a safe bet that the two strongest reactions to that comment were 1) eye-rolling about a prima donna or 2) outcry. Continue reading
Serena Williams in tears after winning in 1st round at Wimbledon
It hit Serena Williams somewhere as she approached the net to shake Aravane Rezai’s hand. Her head out of the battle, it went back to her year away from tennis with injury, then illness. She won her return to Wimbledon Tuesday, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, and couldn’t even get to her chair before she started crying.
She sat down, buried her face in her towel and cried some more. She walked off the court, stopped to talk to BBC, and yes, kept crying.
“I usually don’t cry, so I don’t understand it,’’ she said. “But it’s just been so hard. . .It’s been a disaster year. I didn’t expect to play; I didn’t expect to even do anything. This is, this is, just, I’m excited. I never cry with joy for anything.’’
Through the years, we’ve seen Williams happy and mad, funny and sad, grumpy and, well, the point is, we’ve never seen her like this, so vulnerable. She is such a mix of hyper-emotions that, frankly, it was nice she let us see this side.
Maybe “let’’ is the wrong word. It just happened. So unfamiliar with it, she thought at first that there was just something in her eye.
So Williams is back, and so is her sister, Venus, who missed nearly six months and then won her first-round match on Monday. Women’s tennis desperately needs the Williams sisters. Continue reading
Her thigh was cramping, so she kept hitting it with her racquet in hopes of loosening it up. She was tired. She couldn’t run much any more. She barely had enough energy to do more than just dump her second serve in. This is Serena Williams rusty.
So is this: No. 3 Vera Zvonareva def. Williams 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 Wednesday at Eastbourne in a Wimbledon warmup. The news seems to be that Williams lost. To me, it’s that she almost won.
A year away from the tour with hardly any practice, and Williams just walked back in the door at the top of the game. She beat a top-40 player a day earlier, and now almost beat the player who will be the No. 2 seed at Wimbledon.
Meanwhile, Venus Williams, after six months off, returned to beat the No. 11 player in the world the first day, and then crush Ana Ivanovic 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday.
It is a sign of their greatness. It is a sign of the rest of the tour’s lack of greatness.
The Williams sisters are fine. People wonder if they’re too rusty. I’m just wondering which one of them is going to win Wimbledon.
I’ll take Serena.
“It would be monumental in my mind if Serena pulled off a win,’’ Chris Evert said in an ESPN pre-Wimbledon conference call. Evert is a new analyst. “You can never, ever count her out. But I personally. . .don’t know how it’s humanly possible for someone to take a year off like that and have gone through what she’s been through physically with her ailments, and really hasn’t had a tremendous amount of practice, really a one‑tournament warm‑up (and then win Wimbledon). It would almost shock me if she did.’’ Continue reading
Serena Williams is back, and will play at Wimbledon after a quick warmup event. She’s 29 now, and surely rusty after being gone for a year. Who knows what kind of shape she’s in. It’s going to take some time and. . .
Oh please. Williams had to be watching the women’s tour these past few months thinking how easy it would be for her to own this game, even sick, even on a sore foot, even out of shape. Site unseen, Williams goes into Wimbledon as the huge favorite.
Venus Williams, who is also coming back after a long injury break, is among the favorites, too.
The truth is, Serena could have been dominating the tour for years. But maybe more than ever, it’s there for her taking, if she wants. No one took over while she was gone, though Kim Clijsters came closest. Maybe Li Na is about to. Caroline Wozniacki will drive Serena crazy if Williams can’t keep the ball on the court. Maria Sharapova could be an issue.
That’s about it. I expect Williams to step back in immediately and start winning majors again. She’s that great. The rest of the tour is not. Continue reading
I don’t know how to put this, but Venus Williams must be bored to death. First, she flew to Germany to sit there and watch a Fed Cup team she doesn’t care about lose 5-0. It was all a way to skirt rules to get into the Olympics.
Now, the news is that she’s spending time on court, while recovering from injuries, giving lessons to Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.
Really Venus? Meanwhile, Serena Williams is creating a national buzz by producing photos of herself in a pink bodysuit, hitting Miami Heat games and being seen out on the town.
Serena, who recently went over two million Twitter followers, Tweeted today a plea to start following Venus, who has just over 700,000.
“Let’s get her to 1 MILLION followers,’’ Serena wrote. “Smart, beautiful, CRAZY athletic, classy….the list goes on’’
Serena has nearly three times as many Twitter followers as her sister? It might have something to do with Serena always searching the spotlight, tweeting goofy things regularly. Venus, meanwhile, hasn’t tweeted in 2½ weeks.
It’s another great example of the contrasts between the sisters. Someone pointed out a long time ago that Serena was dating a rapper (Common) while Venus was with a golfer (Hank Kuehne).
Whatever happened to that relationship, anyway?
Well, McKinnie told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he’s trying to drop 20 pounds, from 360-340 – though his listed weight is already 335 – and improve his lateral movement. He has asked for help from his friend, Venus, and he says he’s getting hooked on the game.
A look at the video shows that he has real potential, and maybe a future in the game.
Actually, that’s just the polite thing you’re supposed to say in a story like this. He can’t move. His forehand is wrong. His backhand is decent, though.
“One thing I learned with Venus,’’ McKinnie told the St. Paul paper, “you have to be ready for a long lesson.’’
Well, yes, tennis can be hard work. But it would be easier to stay in shape if you didn’t drink $100,000 worth of champagne in one night. In February, TMZ reported that McKinnie had dropped that much money on alcohol at an NBA All-Star party hosted by rapper Rick Ross and model Rosa Acosta.
Apparently, McKinnie had all the Beautiful People at the party in awe when he bought 15 bottles of expensive champagne, including, reports said, one so large it had to be brought to him with a forklift. Theoretically he shared some of it.
But that doesn’t exactly sound like a guy too worried about getting into shape.
Considering who she’s hanging out with, maybe Venus is leading a little more wild life than we realize, and just keeping in private. Probably not, though.
Serena is having fun and Venus is playing tennis with a 355-pound man.
Greg Couch is an award-winning sports columnist based in Chicago. He covers college football for BleacherReport.com, NFL for RollingStone.com and freelances at several other places, including The New York Times. Lots of tennis, mostly here. He has traveled the world covering tennis and is a member of the International Tennis Writers Association. A former sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, his tennis writing has been in the book "The Best American Sportswriting."