Venus Williams is in no mood to fade away

Los Angeles

WHEN Venus Williams first stepped onto a tennis court in Oakland for her professional debut back in 1994, the Rolling Stones were performing a concert at a nearby stadium.

Twenty-six years later, Williams, like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, is in no mood to simply fade away.

The trailblazing American star celebrates her 40th birthday on June 17 with the tennis season on pause amid the coronavirus pandemic which has decimated the calendar.

The former world No 1, however, says that there is no prospect of her quietly drawing a line under a career which has yielded seven Grand Slam singles titles, four Olympic gold medals and dozens of tournament wins.

Despite the march of time and a recent record of futility - her last singles title came in a WTA Tour event in Taiwan in 2016 - Williams won't be hanging up her racquet just yet.

"You always have to have dreams, so I keep having them," she told the Tennis Majors website in an interview earlier this month.

She revealed that she still wants to challenge for the French and Australian Opens, the two Grand Slams that have eluded her to this day.

"I would like to win Roland Garros. I was not far from it. The same goes for the Australian Open: I was unlucky, I always missed it a little," Williams said.

Dreams of completing a career "Golden Slam" are likely to remain elusive though.

While younger sister Serena has kept pocketing Grand Slams regularly, it is 12 years since Venus won her last Slam, when she triumphed at the 2008 Wimbledon Championships.

Venus herself knows that the clock is ticking.

"I probably won't be playing as long as what I have already played," she said. "We'll see how I feel. I still love winning as much, but when it's over, it's over."

Williams has never been big on admitting defeat however, a hallmark of her early days under the tutelage of father Richard Williams, who drummed into his daughters the maxim that "the ball is never out" - an exhortation to chase down every ball.

When Williams does finally call it quits, tennis will bid farewell to one of the greatest players in its history.

Even though advances in sports science are increasingly stretching the boundaries of longevity for modern athletes, few players today are likely to match her achievement of a professional career that has spanned four different decades.

By now, the broad brushstrokes of Williams' career are part of tennis lore: the upbringing in the gritty Los Angeles suburb of Compton; the rivalry with Serena, who has 23 Grand Slam titles to Venus' seven; and the successful comeback after being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune disease whose symptoms include joint pain and fatigue.

"I've had great moments, I've been on the top, I've been on the bottom, I've been down and out. I've done it all and I've been equally as happy during all of it," Williams said.

The final years of her career have coincided with the emergence of a young crop of African-American tennis players, including Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Taylor Townsend and Coco Gauff.

Former US professional turned broadcaster Pam Shriver believes Williams has helped African-American women "to feel there's a pathway for them to the top of the tennis world".

In recent weeks, Williams has spoken out about the tumultuous protests which erupted in the wake of the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25.

Williams wrote in a long Instagram post that Floyd's death and other incidents had shown that "racism still pervades America".

"This just scratches the surface of the hideous face of racism in America. Speaking up about racism in the past was unpopular. It was shunned. No one believed you," she pointed out.

"Until you have walked in these shoes, as an African-American, it's impossible to understand the challenges you face in the country, in this world." AFP

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