One more point was all Venus Williams needed to take the first set, and up 15-40 in the 10th game of the Wimbledon Women’s Singles final, she resolved to get it. As she prepared to attack with relentless effort, she knew the implications. With a major championship at stake, she is a heady six and one when she manages to strike first and just one and seven when she doesn’t. And so came the most determined stand of her campaign for the fortnight; she traded booming groundstrokes with a fellow Grand Slam titleholder 14 years her junior again and again, and again and again. The hardware that shares her name was within her grasp.
Until it wasn’t. After the 20-shot rally that ended with a miss, Williams looked spent. Two more errant forehands, one to waste another break point and the other to lose the game altogether, confirmed it. And, suddenly, she was no longer the self-assured veteran that forged a blazing path to the final and aimed to wrap her arms around the Venus Rosewater Dish for a sixth time. She became the tired old underdog burdened by an illness diagnosed six years ago and by an offcourt issue heading into the tournament.
In the post-match presser, Williams reverted to reticence, refusing to even address queries regarding her sudden drop in competitiveness from the first set to the second. She was on the cusp of making history as the oldest hopeful to emerge victorious on Center Court; instead, she wound up writing it by absorbing the first bagel of her career at the All-England Club en route to becoming the just the fifth runner-up ever to fall at love. As she was bombarded with speculation regarding her swoon, she refused to focus the spotlight on anything other than the quality of the competition she faced.
Considering how close Williams came to meet her ultimate objective, it’s fair to wonder whether she flubbed her last grand chance at glory. True, her bridesmaid finishes at the Australian Open and Wimbledon lend cause to the contention that she’s again a force on tour. On the other hand, she’s 37 with health issues and tons of miles on the odometer; even as she herself believes “there will still be other opportunities,” no better one than that she just failed to take advantage of seems in store from here on. In any case, she’s intent on trying anew, preferring to take on the perspective of a hungry challenger on the way up instead of an accomplished warrior who has seen better days. “It’s just about getting over the line,” she argued. “I believe I can.”
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.