That was surely the last we will see of Venus in a fi­nal

No one likes los­ing, but it seems Amer­i­can vet­eran has lost love for the sport that once in­spired her

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Wimbledon 2017 - Jim White at Wim­ble­don

There is a pic­ture on the stairs of the press room at Wim­ble­don of the cham­pi­ons of 2007 hold­ing their tro­phies aloft. In their tri­umph, Roger Fed­erer and Venus Wil­liams look so young, so con­fi­dent, so cer­tain. For a mo­ment this year, it seemed as if the All Eng­land Club might be able to put an­other pic­ture of the pair of them up along­side it, this time as the win­ners in 2017.

It would have worked as a lovely par­ody of those in­ter­net memes in­sist­ing that you’ll never guess what so-and-so looks like now. Such a por­trait would have been some an­swer: they look like cham­pi­ons.

But then along came Gar­bine Mugu­ruza. And, in a flurry of fore­hand pound­ing, the ladies sin­gles turned out to be no cel­e­bra­tion of longevity.

In­stead of crown­ing the old­est win­ner in Grand Slam his­tory, there was no need to re­write the record books, not now Wim­ble­don has a 23-year-old cham­pion.

A de­served, ap­pro­pri­ate and proper cham­pion at that. Wil­liams was cast aside with a bru­tal lack of re­straint, pinned to the base­line by her Span­ish op­po­nent’s fear­some bar­rage of shots, los­ing four ser­vice games in a match that was over be­fore you re­ally had time to no­tice it had started.

“Fight Venus fight,” had been the pained cry from a fan as the grand old lady of the game faced match point. But the fact was, she couldn’t. Age had seem­ingly with­ered any abil­ity she had to re­cover from the lip of de­feat.

Af­ter it was over, af­ter she had suf­fered her first ever 6-0 set at Wim­ble­don, af­ter her first grand slam fi­nal since 2008 had ended in com­pound de­feat, she cut a dis­con­so­late fig­ure. As Mugu­ruza fell to her knees in tri­umph, Wil­liams sim­ply looked down and walked slowly to the net, her shoul­ders slumped and her lips drawn in a thin, fixed par­ody of a smile. De­feat, it was clear, is some­thing no one gets used to. Least of all a cham­pion of her pedi­gree.

Wil­liams first played at the All Eng­land Club in 1997, the year Tony Blair be­came Prime Min­is­ter. And yes­ter­day when Mr Blair demon­strated on ra­dio quite how far he had slipped from the cen­tre of the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion in the in­ter­ven­ing decades, Wil­liams was at­tempt­ing to roll back the years on Cen­tre Court. Her pres­ence in­sisted that things could only get bet­ter.

Up in the royal box Mary Berry was among those cast­ing an in­quis­i­tive eye over pro­ceed­ings, per­haps alerted by the fact Mugu­ruza had ad­mit­ted to set­ting fire to her din­ner ear­lier in the week. As the fi­nal­ists walked out on court, it was ev­i­dent that Wil­liams was for once the favourite here. The woman who was ini­tially greeted with sus­pi­cion on the pris­tine lawns of SW19 was hugely ap­plauded, time clearly al­ter­ing as­sump­tions.

Her hair tow­ered up in a Marge Simp­son bun, Wil­liams be­gan with a flour­ish. Her first point, won with a fiery dou­ble-handed back­hand, was greeted with a whoosh of an­tic­i­pa­tion. We were in for a bit of time travel, that shot sug­gested, it was like the clock had been turned back and Oa­sis were No1 in the charts again. Sadly, it of­fered hol­low prom­ise. Once she had been bro­ken by her spir­ited op­po­nent at the end of the first set, she seemed to lose the will to fight. And by the end of the match, it was hard to rec­on­cile the cowed, placid and im­mo­bile fig­ure with the young woman who, when she first ar­rived on the scene, had threat­ened to change the game.

What seemed odd about Wil­liams’s per­for­mance, par­tic­u­larly in that ig­no­min­ious sec­ond set, was the lack of grit. It was so un­char­ac­ter­is­tic. This was a woman who was driven from the very first mo­ment she held a racket by an in­sa­tiable need to win. That was what pushed her out of poverty, that was what de­liv­ered her seven grand slam ti­tles, that was what kept her go­ing through re­cent med­i­cal and emo­tional is­sues. Wil­liams had car­ried on through ev­ery­thing that life had thrown at her.

And she did it, she said, be­cause she was in love with the game. Ten­nis was where she drew hope and in­spi­ra­tion and pur­pose. Not that you would have known it dur­ing her af­ter-match press con­fer­ence.

Gra­cious on court in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math, be­fore jour­nal­ists she was terse, sar­donic and ir­ri­ta­ble, and gave ev­ery im­pres­sion of some­one who had long ago lost all af­fec­tion for what she was do­ing.

While her 2007 cham­pion col­league Fed­erer charms and jokes his way through the ques­tions he has heard a thou­sand times be­fore, Wil­liams could not dis­guise her con­tempt.

“She played re­ally well,” was the ex­tent of her anal­y­sis when asked what it was that had caused her sec­ond-set col­lapse.

You should never say never in sport, par­tic­u­larly a sport in which Fed­erer keeps ex­tend­ing the pa­ram­e­ters of com­pet­i­tive life ex­pectancy. But that was surely the last Wim­ble­don will see of Venus Wil­liams in a fi­nal.

Asked if, pre­sum­ably, she would be back next year, she an­swered with a sneer­ingly sar­cas­tic “pre­sum­ably”.

But if she is, we can only hope she has a more aus­pi­cious con­clud­ing act.

It had taken her nine years to re­turn to the scene of her tri­umphs. And the pain of be­ing made to scrab­ble and stum­ble at the last was writ­ten in ev­ery mono­syl­la­ble. That is one of the abid­ing truths of sport: no mat­ter how long you have been in the game, los­ing never gets any eas­ier.

Asked if, pre­sum­ably, she would be back next year, she replied with a sneer­ingly sar­cas­tic “pre­sum­ably”

Fi­nal act: Venus Wil­liams can­not hide her dis­ap­point­ment as she holds her tro­phy

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