Venus has solid start at Open
There is this idea that a tennis champion must be dominant throughout her entire career, and any evidence of a slip in ability should be sent to a lab and examined.
Is it terminal? Can you cure me, Doc?
But tennis players are not prizefighters; there is no long-term damage associated from a career of matches that go three sets. And Venus Williams has discovered in the autumn of her career an appreciation of a sport she had a complicated relationship with as a girl.
The 33-year-old star is willing to be patient with herself; why can't the rest of the world?
After a long summer that saw her win no more than one match in her four most recent tournaments, Williams, unseeded entering her 15th US Open, soundly defeated No. 12 Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-2 on Monday in the first round after losing to the Belgian in Toronto earlier this month.
"For some reason, people try to retire us [tennis players] early," Williams told Hannah Storm and Mary Jo Fernandez during an ESPN postmatch interview. "I love tennis, I love what I do and I can do it well."
Williams has earned the right to stick around if she likes.
She won the US Open in 2000 and 2001 and is a five-time winner at Wimbledon. She bounced back from various injuries, inconsistent play and the death of her half-sister Yetunde Price to win her fourth Wimbledon singles title in 2007 (she'd win her fifth the following year). Then, after being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome in 2011 and missing the US Open because of it, Venus rebounded again in 2012, winning doubles titles with sister Serena at Wimbledon and the London Olympics.
Williams wouldn't have to look too far to find other players who have found success late in their careers. Andre Agassi was the runner-up at the US Open in 2005 before retiring in 2006, and Pete Sampras won here in 2002 before riding off into the sunset. Kim Clijsters came out of retirement in 2009 and won two straight US Open titles (2009-10).
And there is no reason for Williams to rule out a satisfying conclusion to her own career.
Her first serve was an issue in recent months, but she has worked on it and was 52 percent on her first serves against Flipkens. As for stamina (Venus has Sjogren's, which can manifest as crushing fatigue on match days), her win Monday included a second-set game that took over 10 minutes to complete. Williams served, but Flipkens pushed as the match was slipping away in the fifth game.
"We had games like that in Toronto that I lost, and I realized maybe I'm not exactly on my game or getting the first-game points like I'm accustomed to," Williams said. "But I have to keep going for it and get comfortable in these positions."
Williams' next opponent will be unranked Zheng Jie in the second round. If she can manage to keep winning, she could ultimately meet her sister Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. But for the elder sibling and former US Open champion, that may not be the ultimate goal, and it shouldn't be considered failure if she falls short.
"I know I can play great tennis," Venus said. "Sometimes you have to go through losses. When I have had losses, it always motivates me to do better and to work harder. So I realize that I haven't had a lot of chances to play this year, or a lot of chances to play healthy this year.
"[I've] had injuries and what have you, so I'm just going to have to keep working my way into it, maybe more than some of the other players, but I know I can do that. That's what it is."
That's fine, Venus. Take your time.