Fa­tal crash ren­ders Venus ‘speech­less’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — Venus Wil­liams wiped tears from her eyes dur­ing her Wimbledon news con­fer­ence Mon­day.

She shook her head, fid­dled with her hair and sat, silently.

The wave of emo­tion came as Wil­liams at­tempted to an­swer a ques­tion about the two-car crash that po­lice say she caused June 9 in Florida; a 78-year-old pas­sen­ger in the other ve­hi­cle died 13 days later. Wil­liams’ 7-6 (7), 6-4 vic­tory over Elise Mertens at the All Eng­land Club was the five­time Wimbledon cham­pion’s first match any­where since the ac­ci­dent — and the first time she has spo­ken about it pub­licly. Well, tried to speak about it. She be­gan by say­ing: “There are re­ally no words to de­scribe, like, how dev­as­tat­ing and …”

Wil­liams paused. “Yeah, I’m com­pletely speech­less,” she briefly continued. “It’s just. Yeah, I mean, I’m just …”

Then she sat there, silently. Even­tu­ally, the mod­er­a­tor seated next to Wil­liams tem­po­rar­ily halted the news

con­fer­ence, al­low­ing the 37-year-old Amer­i­can to leave the room for a bit. She hud­dled nearby with her older sis­ter, Isha, be­fore re­turn­ing. When the pro­ceed­ings re­sumed, the mod­er­a­tor asked that the topic of the crash be avoided, say­ing, “Venus is will­ing to take a cou­ple more ques­tions about other things. Ten­nis, per­haps.”

The No. 10 seed Wil­liams’ re­turn to ac­tion, and dif­fi­culty in ad­dress­ing the off-court matters with the me­dia — just last week, the po­lice re­port was re­leased, and a day later, the es­tate of the man who died sued her — were the most note­wor­thy hap­pen­ings on Day 1 at the grass-court Grand Slam tour­na­ment.

There was on-court news, too, start­ing with No. 5 seed Stan Wawrinka, a three-time ma­jor cham­pion and the run­ner-up at the French Open just three weeks ago, los­ing 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to Daniil Medvedev, a 21-year-old Rus­sian ranked 49th who had never won one Grand Slam match in his ca­reer.

“For sure, I wasn’t feel­ing the way I wanted to feel,” said Wawrinka, who was deal­ing with a sore knee.

“Ap­par­ently,” he said with a grin, “grass is not the best sur­face for my knee.”

Wawrinka has won each of the other ma­jors once apiece, but Wimbledon has given him fits over the years. He has yet to get past the quar­ter­fi­nals, and this was his sixth exit in the first round.

An­other seeded man hob­bled by an in­jury de­parted when No. 20 Nick Kyr­gios stopped play­ing be­cause of a hip prob­lem. He dropped the first two sets against Pierre-Hugues Her­bert of France be­fore call­ing it quits.

Two of the four men who have divvied up the past 14 Wimbledon tro­phies won eas­ily Mon­day: Andy Mur­ray and Rafael Nadal.

Mur­ray was asked about what ad­vice he might give Wil­liams.

“I don’t know ex­actly what hap­pened. I just read kind of more, like, head­lines, rather than the whole sto­ries about it. But it’s ob­vi­ously hor­rific when any­thing like that hap­pens,” he said. “I’m sure it must be tough for her to fo­cus on her ten­nis just now. But I don’t know how you ad­vise some­one on that.

Un­less you’ve been through it, you don’t know. You don’t know what to do.”

Wil­liams has not been cited or charged, and po­lice say she was not drunk, on drugs or tex­ting, but she drove her SUV into the path of a car car­ry­ing a mar­ried cou­ple. Wil­liams, who owns a home near the crash site, told in­ves­ti­ga­tors her light was green when she en­tered the six-lane in­ter­sec­tion but she got stopped mid­point by traf­fic and didn’t see the other car be­fore she crossed their lane.

“I mean, ob­vi­ously, I think it would weigh on any hu­man be­ing, and Venus is no dif­fer­ent,” said Wil­liams’ coach, David Witt. “Venus is the nicest

per­son, and [this is] just some ran­dom thing that could hap­pen to any­body, any day. But she’s look­ing to fo­cus on the ten­nis. I’m sure it’s weigh­ing on her but we’re go­ing day by day and get­ting good prac­tice in. Once she en­ters the court, I think her mind’s on the match and ten­nis and win­ning here at Wimbledon.”

Asked Mon­day how dif­fi­cult the re­cent weeks have been, Wil­liams replied: “Ten­nis is still the love of my life. You know, it gives me joy.”

She is a for­mer No. 1 and the owner of seven ma­jor sin­gles ti­tles, along with 14 Grand Slam dou­bles ti­tles, all won with her younger sis­ter, Ser­ena.

Against Mertens, whom she beat 6-3, 6-1 on red clay at the French Open last month, Wil­liams played un­evenly.

She took a 3-0 lead, then let that evap­o­rate. She led 6-3 in the tiebreaker, then needed five set points to close it. She fell be­hind 2-0 in the sec­ond set, then took five of the next six games. She failed to con­vert two match points at 5-3 be­fore a 33-minute rain de­lay. She needed three more match points to fi­nally end the first match of her 20th Wimbledon ap­pear­ance.

“I have no idea what to­mor­row will bring. That’s all I can say about it,” Wil­liams said. “That’s what I’ve learned.”

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