For a while on Wednesday, it seemed like that the tennis gods were writing out a fairytale script on the Louis Armstrong Stadium.
33-years-olds Venus Williams and James Blake – veterans and fans’ favourites; one close to the end of her career and the other playing the last tournament of his – found themselves in the final set tie-breakers.
But this was reality and not some movie script. There was to be no happy ending for either Williams or Blake on a day when rain interrupted the matches several times and played havoc with the tournament schedule.
Williams, a former world no. 1 and two-time champion here, started slow against China’s Jie Zheng on Wednesday, losing the first set 3-6. The American soon found her range and came back to win the second set 6-2. But Zheng, a two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist, kept going ahead in the final set, leading 4-1 at one time and then 5-3.
Each time, Williams fought back to take the set into a tie-breaker. There, she once again found herself down 1-4, but stayed with Zheng from the baseline to get back to 5-5, just as the match time touched three hours. It was then that Williams faltered, missing an easy volley and then a backhand return to hand the match to Zheng.
Since the past two years, Venus has been battling the effects of Sjorgen’s Syndrome, and it’s a testament to her spirit and her love for the game that she is still out there, knowing very well that each early loss takes a little bit away from her legacy.
But for Venus, her career win-loss ratio is not what matters. She wants to fight her disease and play to the best of her ability with the cards she has been dealt and make that a part of her legacy.
In her press conference, Williams was emphatic, stating, “If I didn’t think I had anything in the tank, I wouldn’t be here. So I feel like I do, and that’s why I’m here.”
Williams also laid out her plans for the rest of the year, saying she will travel to Asia to play some tournaments in the fall, a time where she has usually taken time off in previous years. “I think I’ll go to Asia. I haven’t been there in quite a few years because of injury and illness. I’m looking forward to that. I’d love to defend in Luxembourg. [I] Ended last year on an injured note but a good note. I’m looking forward to hopefully being able to pull everything together and get healthy as possible and continue to play.”