Venus Williams’ career has never followed a predictable or traditional tennis trajectory. Still when she announced her Sjogren’s syndrome diagnosis in 2011 most began drafting her tennis obituary. They shook their heads or laughed as she said time and again that she would play until Rio 2016, at a minimum. It has taken years for her to grapple with the disease, and she has shown a commitment and perseverance that is simply inspiring. She has had to re-examine her approach and her game. Much has been shared about her shorter training sessions, transition to a vegetarian diet and an emphasis on flexibility and endurance via Pilates and dance. While her power game with net rushes requires strength and fitness, she has not altered her game.
Venus ended 2011 ranked #105 and currently she is #14 and #11 in the Road to Singapore. 2015 has been a great year for Venus Williams. In January she was able to string together five matches to win her first title since Dubai 2014. Winning her 46th (Auckland) and 47th (Wuhan) titles, commentators and writers are grappling with which narrative to unleash. Is Venus having a late career resurgence or is she simply experiencing success due to a convergence of tennis stars, like a perfect storm or confluence? Maybe it is neither as Venus is determined to be the only one deciding when and how she leaves this sport.
Resurgence suggests that she has had a renewal or comeback or resurrection after a period of little activity. This is not so. Her success this year has been three years in the making. Along the way she has had many difficult losses. Many count her 2014 Wimbledon loss to Kvitova as the best match of the tournament, and her three losses to Kerber in 2012 were competitive. She has been plagued with injury (back 2013), fatigue and an inability to close matches. But she has also had some great wins in the last three years: Luxembourg 2012, Keys (Charleston 2013) and Serena (Montreal 201). Though she is unlikely to reach the highs she has before, Venus continues to be impressive if inconsistent.
This season Venus quieted the naysayers. The ad nauseam implications and statements that she will only succeed with the ‘right draw’, against a ‘weak era’ or with a new coach is no longer. She is succeeding without this convergence of tennis stars. With seven wins against top 10 players this year, she has done something we rarely see athletes attempt much less achieve. She has addressed a major flaw in her game at age 35. Venus has always been competitive, but she has never had the tunnel vision of a champion. Think about all of the matches she has lost after leading or the number of three set matches she has played. Whether this is a result of fatigue due to Sjogren’s, a lack of on-court focus, preparation or confidence, Venus has simply lost a lot of winnable games.
This season she has been more focused and her matches have been more strategic with cleaner games. Watching her match against Keys (Australian Open), Serena (US Open), Vinci (Wuhan), you see a new level of confidence and determination. When Venus is focused, keeps the errors low, rushes the net, and simply refuses to lose even when she gives up countless breaks and leads, she puts the tour on notice. What other 35-year-old tennis player stats’ matches Venus Williams? She has great head-to-head against rising stars (4-1 vs. Bencic; 8-4 vs Halep; 3-0 vs. Muguruza) and competitive head-to-head against the top veterans ( 8-4 vs. Radwanska; 9-2 vs. Ivanovic; 4-2 vs. Azarenka). However, she does not fare well against Serena (11-16), Sharapova (3-5) or Kvitova (1-4).
Given the taxing tournament Venus just completed in Wuhan and her injury, it is not unreasonable to think she comes into to the China Open an underdog, but we all know better than to go with traditional odds when it comes to Venus. Even with a first round bye and a second round opponent with whom she has a favorable H2H, her draw will be difficult but there is no doubt that she will give it her all. Bye> Ivanovic> Kuznetsova > Penneta> Bacsinszky> Keys. Venus shared her sport mentality best in her 2010 Come to Win: Business Leaders, Artists, Doctors, and Other Visionaries on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession.
When I lose, the pain is so intense, and the emotions roll through me. Facing a loss where I know I could have done better is even harder…We were taught go out there and play. It doesn’t matter who you play. Play your game, then you’re the better one…Back in the day if someone asked me whom I’d rather play I said well whoever is ranked higher because I wanted the [quality] points. I didn’t want to labor against someone lower ranked and not even get any points.
Venus has proven that she is indeed the better one and the captain of her destiny. She is in full control of her career, on and off the court. Whether she plays a day more or a year more, we’ll enjoy her game and grace. This season has not been a resurgence or a convergence of tennis stars for Venus; it has been the destiny Venus has prayed for, worked for and deserve!