20 years ago, Venus Williams made her Wimbledon debut. 20 years later, Venus Williams is in the Ladies’ Singles Final for the ninth time.
In 1997, Venus was talked about as possibly the next big thing in women’s tennis. Now in 2017, many use the words “comeback” or “unexpected surprise” to describe her path to this year’s final – despite her being a five-time champion.
But as her sister Serena Williams said after defeating her older sister in this year’s Australian Open final, “I don’t like the word comeback, because she never left.”
Venus never left, that is for sure. Many wanted her to. Especially many in the media, ready to salivate over the next young promise. So many in the media a few years ago couldn’t understand why she persisted earlier in this decade while overcoming Sjogren’s syndrome. Williams to them was a has been who needed to leave the scene and make way for the next big thing.
I remember when I was covering the WTA Charleston tournament a few years ago a young reporter moaned to me. “Why does she keep playing?” on Venus’s insistence on playing despite enduring early round losses. I tried to explain that my theory was that she still believed that she could win another Grand Slam title, but it did little to convince the reporter who I’m sure is singing her praises at this time.
In many ways, we shouldn’t be surprised. Venus remained in the sport simply because she loved competing. Now, after so many ups and downs, she finds herself in another Wimbledon final.
While reaching this year’s Australian Open final was certainly impressive, it feels like getting another shot at the Wimbledon title is really what Venus has been aiming for over the last last ten years. Win or lose against her opponent Garbine Muguruza, Venus will have proved that, yes, the long agonizing wait was worth it.
Venus has lived with having her little sister Serena achieve greater things since 2009 – the last year Venus was in a Wimbledon final. As Serena went on to win more Grand Slam titles, Venus often applauded from the sidelines. Venus once was the biggest star in women’s tennis. But she ceded that role to Serena, with grace and appreciation for all her sister accomplished. Yet, here she is ready to make a little more history perhaps for herself – because she believed she could.
Way back in 1997, Venus lost her opening round match all those years ago to Magdalena Grzybowska of Poland. But Venus, despite that, predicted the future when she said. “It’s my first Wimbledon,” she said. “There will be many more.”
I have a feeling that Venus will find a way to keep that early prediction ringing true. No matter what happens in tomorrow’s final.