If Monday night on the U.S. Open with Serena Williams was electric, Tuesday afternoon along with her sister Venus was natural lighting: sunlit yet subdued.
“That’s a great analogy,” said Kim Benjamin, a longtime fan of the Williams sisters from Baton Rouge, La., who was in Arthur Ashe Stadium for each sessions.
Serena Williams’s victory, 6-3, 6-3, over Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in the primary round Monday night would have been a tricky act to follow for anyone, not only a sibling.
That is Serena’s self-declared last U.S. Open and certain her final tournament, and he or she prolonged her stay within the singles draw by shaking off the rust and clicking into some familiar gears against Kovinic with the sellout crowd roaring on its feet as she arrived, as she prevailed and as she departed after an on-court tribute that featured Billie Jean King and a video tribute narrated by Oprah Winfrey.
“You possibly can just feel the energy, and you only knew that Serena was going to return out and need to present it her all, because the group was amazing, from the minute she stepped out,” said Benjamin, who purchased a ticket on the last minute. “It was goose bumps.”
But Tuesday afternoon had a really different vibe. The most important stadium in tennis was half empty and the reception comparatively muted, even when there have been loads of shouts of “We love you, Venus” and “Let’s go, V.”
It’s partly a matter of perception. The sisters will probably be eternally linked in the general public’s eye as players and doubles partners: sharing the identical moonshot journey from cracked public courts in Compton, Calif., to Grand Slam titles and No. 1 on the earth.
But though Venus, 42, is gone the standard tennis retirement date and has not won a singles match since she returned to the tour this season, she appears to be on a unique profession timeline than her sister, or no less than has a radically different way of constructing an exit.
Tuesday’s loss, 6-1, 7-6 (5) to Alison Van Uytvanck, an unseeded Belgian veteran, could well become the last U.S. Open singles match of Venus’s profession but there was no clarity on her plans, which only widened the disparity between the sisters’ night-and-day experiences this week.
They’ll soon be reunited on court, playing doubles in a first-round match that nearly actually will probably be scheduled for Thursday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium. But Venus was not prepared on Tuesday to dissolve the mist surrounding her own tennis future at certainly one of her increasingly rare news conferences.
Serena Williams’s Farewell to Tennis
The U.S. Open may very well be the tennis star’s last skilled tournament after a protracted profession of breaking boundaries and obliterating expectations.
Query: “We find out about Serena and her plans post-Open. After you might have done the doubles, do you propose to evolve away from tennis and do your personal thing or is tennis still within the forefront of your mind?”
Venus’s response: “Without delay I’m just focused on the doubles.”
Retirement is a rightfully sensitive subject for any star athlete, but Venus has needed to cope with the speculation and thinly veiled questions for much longer than most. Together with her results slumping, she had to start keeping off retirement queries starting in her late 20s, quashing them for a time when she experienced her renaissance season in 2017: reaching the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, making the semifinals of the U.S. Open and soaring inspirationally back into the highest five of the rankings at age 37.
She has had, by nearly any measure, an exceptional profession: reaching No. 1 in each singles and doubles, winning seven Grand Slam singles titles (five at Wimbledon and two on the U.S. Open), 4 Olympic gold medals and winning 14 Grand Slam doubles titles along with her sister (they’re 14-0 in finals).
But that stirring 2017 revival looks very very similar to her last hurrah. She has not reached one other final at any level since then and has lost nine times in the primary round of Grand Slam tournaments within the last five seasons, never advancing past the third round in any major during that span.
“When it’s my last, I’ll let you already know,” she said when retirement talk resurfaced after she lost early at Wimbledon again in 2021.
At this stage, having missed nearly a 12 months of motion due to injury before returning in July, she has a world rating of 1,504.
“It was definitely the longest time I even have been away from tennis and been and not using a racket in my hand,” she said. “So it was a totally recent experience for me, getting a racket back in my hand and attempting to acclimate as quick as possible to be ready for the U.S. Open, which was demanding.”
Due to her rating, she will be able to only make it into tour-level events through wild cards, just like the one awarded to her at this U.S. Open. At some stage, if Venus improbably extends her profession well beyond this tournament and season, the largess will and may end. Young players on the rise deserve those opportunities, too, but Venus, even with a quadruple-digit rating, stays an undeniable drawing card and a touchstone whose many fans, particularly those with siblings, can connect along with her story.
“She is in her sister’s shadow in my view,” Benjamin said. “I believe she doesn’t have obviously the family dynamics that Serena does now with a husband and a toddler. So, I believe that she’s here for the long haul, simply because she loves the sport a lot. I believe she’s playing because win, lose, or draw, she’s just glad to be playing the sport she loves.”
That could be a devoted fan’s view but not the message Venus sent after her latest defeat. She was asked what was driving her on the market on the court at this point of her profession.
“Three letters,” she answered without hesitation. “W-I-N. That’s it. Quite simple.”
In that case, this should be a downbeat time, but then perhaps it’s smart to not assume an excessive amount of.
She has had loads of opportunities to gracefully step away and bask within the accolades but has continued to move to the practice court with Eric Hechtman, the coach she now shares with Serena, and has continued to step back into the sector, even when her first step is just not nearly as quick.
She is hardly embarrassing herself and pushed Van Uytvanck, who’s ranked forty third, right into a tiebreaker by lifting her level within the second set with the less-than-capacity crowd providing loads of positive feedback. But in the long run, she couldn’t manufacture quite enough form or consistency.
“In the long run, it’s just rust,” Venus said. “There may be nothing you’ll be able to do about that aside from, you already know, not be rusty in some unspecified time in the future.”
She is now 0-4 in singles in 2022 but is just not done just yet with Arthur Ashe Stadium. Bring on the electricity on Thursday.
Benjamin, on her way back to Baton Rouge, won’t have the opportunity to make that session, but she had some parting words as she headed for the front gate within the natural light.
“Be gentle with Venus,” she said. “Please.”