At 36, she’s focused on Wimbledon, Olympics

- Nick McCarvel @NickMcCarv­el Special for USA TODAY Sports

This much is clear at this point: Only Venus Williams knows when she will stop playing tennis. Or maybe she doesn’t. “I’m not into a swan song,” Williams, 36, said with a smile Thursday. “When I’m done, it will be done.”

But as of now, Williams isn’t done. Not even close, it appears.

She won her second-round singles match against Maria Sakkari, 20, in three sets before she and her sister, Serena, took to the court shortly thereafter to win their doubles match.

As that was happening, Venus was named to the U.S. Olympic team for the fifth time — the same number as Michael Phelps. She is a singles gold medalist (2000) and three-time doubles winner (2000, 2008 and 2012).

“It’s hard to think about the end when you’re playing well,” said Williams, who is the oldest player to be seeded among the top eight at a major since Martina Navratilov­a at Wimbledon in 1994. “I don’t have any plans on making any comebacks, so when I’m done, I’ll definitely lay it down, try to get a life of some sort.”

Over the last 20 years, tennis has been Williams’ life, and she has been as graceful a champion as we’ve seen.

She is a five-time victor here (most recently in 2008) and a seven-time Grand Slam winner, but Thursday she was made to play on Court 18, the fifth of five major courts here.

It was an embarrassm­ent, some said, to put such a champion there. Williams took the high road.

“I’m willing to play anywhere, anytime,” she said. “I don’t mind where I play, it’s just as long as everyone plays on the outside courts (too).”

That was Williams making a point, as she has often done to the All England Club, the tournament host: Schedule the men and women more equally. But the Club has not always listened. Williams led the charge for equal pay here in 2007; Wimbledon was the last of the four majors to do so.

Fans stood shoulder-to-shoulder as Williams played on 18, some watching in wonder, as if it were the end, the last time they’d see her at Wimbledon, where she first won a major in 2000.

“When the schedule came out, I just thought, ‘Wow, I’m going to get to see Venus on a grounds pass,’ ” said Stephanie Neppl, a tennis fan and blogger from Kansas City, Mo. “I sat next to the Williams team, and it was surreal. Venus has this regality about her; she exudes what Wimbledon is. It is a bucket-list item to see her for any tennis fan.”

On Williams’ bucket list is to continue playing tennis. With the 2016 Olympics a longtime goal, Monday she mentioned the 2020 Games — whether serious or not — and a desire to play there.

This is plain for now: There is no end in sight.

“The belief that she still has in her ability … she knows what her capabiliti­es are, and she knows her limitation­s,” ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez, who also will serve as the U.S. Olympic women’s coach in Rio, told USA TODAY Sports.

“At 36, she’s still a threat,” she added. “It’s great to see her love for the game. In 2012, she went out of Wimbledon in the first round rather meekly, and I thought, ‘Uh oh.’ But look at her now.”

“To single her away from Serena, Venus, as a player in her own right, to have done what she has and still be out there at her age, none of us can know what that feels like,” said Sam Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion. “It’s absolutely amazing to see what she has accomplish­ed.”

After her first-round win here, against another 20-year-old, Williams said she felt that — as long as she can get her racket on a ball — she would continue to play.

“To me she’s grace. There’s something serene about her,” ESPN’s Chris McKendry said. “She’s a leader without being loud, an example without being in the girls’ faces. She is such a special person.”

Friday, Williams gets a third opponent born after she began her career: Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, 19. If she loses, will it be her Wimbledon finale? Who knows. (Not even Williams, apparently.) But the ability to appreciate her presence is what many inside the sport are trying to do.

“Will she be back next year? I don’t know,” said Neppl, who travels to many events. “She is a stalwart of the game. At 36, she is a top-eight seed. Her presence, you feel it. She’s just Wimbledon to me.”

 ?? SUSAN MULLANE, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Venus Williams owns five Wimbledon singles titles.
SUSAN MULLANE, USA TODAY SPORTS Venus Williams owns five Wimbledon singles titles.

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