Saturday, July 15, 2017

Venus rising

So now comes the time, this a.m., to have Breakfast at Wimbledon, and raise a spoonful of strawberries and cream to the Other One. And to acknowledge the inherent unfairness of that.

Venus Williams is 37 years old now, and you can be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking of her as a page in a history book and not a blood-pumping human still capable of striping a forehand down the line when everything is right. That she has been so eclipsed by the marvel that is her younger sister has always had an off-kilter feel to it, a fractured fairy tale sense of an unkempt storyline that wouldn't stay tucked in.

Venus, after all, was the first of the Williams sisters to come out of Compton and turn the prim  cloistered world of women's tennis into something far more inclusive. She played at Wimbledon for the first time when she was 17. She won it for the first time when she was 20. And then ...

And then came Serena. Who only morphed into the greatest tennis player in history.

And yet here we are 20 years later, and here still is Venus, playing in her ninth Wimbledon final. She has won it five times. She has won seven Grand Slam titles in all. She was the first African-American woman in the Open Era ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world,  and she remains the only tennis player, male or female, to win a medal in four different Olympics.

And then there is this: She was a major force behind the push for women to get equal pay in Grand Slam tournaments, which finally happened when Wimbledon and the French Open capitulated in 2007.

And today?

If she beats Garbine Muguruza, she will become the oldest woman ever to win a Grand Slam title. She has overcome a debilitating auto-immune disease which has sapped her strength since 2011. She has overcome the trauma of being involved in a fatal automobile accident last month in Florida, when a car ran a stop sign and T-boned her, and one of its occupants died.

Yet she is here. She has always been here: one of the greatest and most influential women's players in history, and yet one who has never gotten her due because her sister happens to be the greatest.

That business about being the oldest woman ever to win a Grand Slam title, for instance?

If it happens today, Venus will supplant a woman who just became the oldest herself by winning the Australian Open at the age of 35. And that woman's name?

Serena Williams.

But of course.

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