What does future hold for Venus?

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Venus Williams lost in the first round of the French Open last month.

On Monday, Venus Williams turned 33 years old. On Tuesday, she announced she will not play at Wimbledon, where she has been as much a part of the tournament as strawberries and cream.

"I am extremely disappointed as I have always loved The Championships," she wrote on her Facebook page Tuesday, "but I need to take time to let my back heal. I look forward to returning to the courts as soon as possible, with my goal being to return to Mylan World Team Tennis on July 8 in Washington DC."

Venus had played Wimbledon the previous 16 years, winning it five times. The last previous time she did not play there was 1996, when she was just 16 years old.

The inevitable question is whether she will play there again. After all, the same question came up at the French Open last month when she lost a grueling, 3-hour, 19-minute match against Urszula Radwanska in the first round. Asked after that loss if she entertained any thought about whether it might be her final match at Roland Garros, she replied vaguely (and tiredly), "If it's the last match, I'll let you know."

The thing with sports, though, is athletes are often the last to know when their careers are over.

Tennis careers are lasting longer as players benefit from better training, improved medical treatment and increased financial incentive. Serena Williams, after all, is currently the No. 1 player in the world and she's 31, just two years younger than her sister.

But Venus hasn't won a major in five years. She lost in the first round of the French Open last month. She lost in the first round of Wimbledon last year. She is dealing with the bad back that has severely restricted her once-powerful serve (she averaged 95 mph during that first-round match in Paris), as well as the incurable immune system disease Sjogren's syndrome.

"Obviously, at some point, everyone has to retire, but I have to give myself a chance to continue working on feeling better," Venus said after her loss in Paris. "I wouldn't give up just because it's difficult."

Venus is a fighter, as was clear in the way she battled against Radwanska in the gathering Parisian darkness. As she said, she will not give up because it's difficult. She will not surrender easily. So the question is not whether she will continue playing, but rather how well she can play.

And the answer may be a difficult one for such a great champion to accept.

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