From the moment Venus and Serena Williams appeared on the Grand Slam scene in the late 1990s, they’ve been winning titles and transcending tennis, becoming red-carpet celebrities as much as sports stars.
Every so often, like all elite athletes, they’ve heard questions about whether their best days were behind them, whether health problems or off-court distractions were taking their toll. And each time, it seemed, one or the other – or sometimes, amazingly, both – would promptly reach a major final, as if to say, “Hey, don’t count us out yet.”
Now that each is past her 30th birthday, and big victories are less frequent than ever, those questions are bound to get more persistent, especially after this week. The 2012 French Open has been the worst Grand Slam tournament in Williams family history, the first of the 43 that both entered at which neither reached the third round.
They’ve always been each other’s fiercest rival and best friend, ever since they emerged as teenagers from Compton, California, coached by a father who taught himself tennis by watching instructional videos. They were siblings who competed with each other for top billing in their own home and the entire globe – and with 120 mph serves and punishing groundstroke’s, they ushered in a new brand of power-based play.
Both have been No 1 in the WTA rankings, but Serena is now No 5, and Venus is No 53.
They have played each other in eight Grand Slam finals (Serena leads 6-2), including four in a row from 2002-03, but none since Wimbledon in 2009.
Serena’s title at the All England Club the next year was the last at a Grand Slam tournament for either Williams; a few days later, she cut her feet on glass at a restaurant, leading to a series of complications, including blood clots on her lung.
Her latest issue was a bad back, although she refused to blame that for her loss to Razzano.
“I’ve just got to … figure out what I did wrong and not do it again,” Serena said. “You know, learn from it.”
The world will be watching when Wimbledon begins next month to find out if that’s still the case