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For Venus Williams, Tokyo Olympics an incentive

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Venus Williams sounds more and more definitive about trying to become the oldest Olympic singles tennis player in the modern era.

“I have no plans of stopping anytime soon,” the 37-year-old Williams said, according to an Entrepreneur magazine article published this week. “It seems somehow that 2020 Tokyo is on the horizon. Isn’t that wild? I’m trying to stick around for that.”

If anything is to stop her from qualifying for Tokyo in singles in 2 1/2 years, it’s the depth of American women’s tennis.

A nation can send no more than four players per event to the Olympics. Williams would easily make it based on recent form. She finished the 2017 season ranked No. 5 in the world, her highest placement since January 2011.

But none of her results from this spectacular season — including Australian Open and Wimbledon runners-up and a U.S. Open semifinal — will play into 2020 Olympic qualification.

In the coming years, Williams must keep her game at a high level, assuming sister Serena Williams, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe, who made two Grand Slam semifinals in 2017, do as well.

Williams could also make the 2020 Olympic team in doubles only if she’s not one of the top four U.S. singles players.

Williams, a five-time Olympic medalist, teased trying for a sixth Olympics both at the Rio Games and later in 2016.

“I am targeting that to see if it’s possible to play there,” Williams said on a TV program that aired last November. “While you’re out there playing, I love that challenge, I love the pressure, it’s all a privilege. If I can be out there, I will be.”

In Rio, Williams won silver in mixed doubles with Rajeev Ram, becoming the most decorated tennis player in Olympic history.

She also became the second-oldest singles player since the sport returned to the Olympic program following a 64-year break in 1988. If she is back for Tokyo, she will break Jonas Bjorkman’s record as the oldest singles player in this era.

“God willing, I imagine if I really wanted to be there, I could,” Williams said Aug. 14, 2016. “So Tokyo is about if I want to be there. If I want to continue to work as hard. It’s a lot of hard work. I have to want to do the work. So we’ll see.”

One American has competed in more than six Olympics — equestrian J. Michael Plumb.

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Venus Williams ousted; young American will win U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Venus Williams‘ incredible Grand Slam season ended without her first major title in nine years.

Instead, a younger American will win her first Slam at the U.S. Open on Saturday.

An inconsistent Williams fell to speedy Sloane Stephens 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 in the first of two all-American semifinals at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday night.

Stephens won 10 of the last 11 points in a 73-minute rubber set after being two points away from defeat.

Stephens, into her first major final in her fifth event back from foot surgery, will play another first-time finalist, Madison Keys, for the championship.

“When I started my comeback [on July 4], if somebody told me I’d make two semis and a Grand Slam final, I would have passed out,” said Stephens, whose biggest prior win was over Serena Williams in the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals.

A former No. 11 player, she was ranked outside the top 900 a month ago due to the 10-month injury absence.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run down every ball, didn’t know if my power and timing was still going to be there,” said Stephens, who was still in a walking boot in June. “I didn’t know if everything was still going to be right. The only thing I had to rely on was my fight.”

Keys swept CoCo Vandweghe 6-1, 6-2 in the other semifinal for the biggest win of her career.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Keys said on court shortly after. “I’m still shaking.”

Stephens, 24, or Keys, 22, will become the first U.S. woman other than a Williams to win a Grand Slam since Jennifer Capriati at the 2002 Australian Open.

Venus Williams’ run to the semifinals at age 37 continued a resurgent campaign. Stephens clapped for Williams as she walked off the court immediately after its conclusion. Williams wasn’t in much of a mood for plaudits.

“I’m definitely here to win my matches, not for consolations,” she said later.

The quadruple Olympic champion won the most Grand Slam singles matches of any woman in 2017 — also making the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon and the fourth round at the French Open.

She posted her best results at every Slam since her last title at Wimbledon in 2008.

Williams will move into the top five of the WTA rankings next week for the first time in nearly seven years with a great shot to move even higher before the Australian Open in January.

“I will continue to play tennis,” Williams said when asked about her near future plans. “It’s nothing complicated.”

With play like this, Williams, who adores the Olympics, can qualify to play singles at Tokyo 2020 at age 40.

However, U.S. women’s tennis is at its deepest in more than a decade: Stephens, Keys and Vandeweghe, plus Serena Williams to return next year from childbirth.

A nation can qualify a maximum of four singles players per gender for the Olympics.

If Williams is not one of the top four Americans come summer 2020, she could be selected for her sixth Olympics in doubles only.

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Venus Williams falls in Wimbledon final to Garbine Muguruza

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LONDON (AP) — Through it all, Venus Williams kept working, kept striving, kept eyeing yet another Wimbledon championship.

Through it all, through the difficult days of adjusting to life with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, through the disappointing days of first-round losses that led to questions about retirement, through all of the accumulating years, she pressed on.

And on Saturday, facing Garbine Muguruza in the final, Williams had a shot at her sixth title at the All England Club — nine years after her last one and, remarkably, 17 years after her first.

Williams twice was a point from taking the opening set before unraveling completely, dropping the last nine games and losing 7-5, 6-0 to Muguruza, who earned her first Wimbledon championship.

“This is where you want to be. I like to win. I don’t want to just get to a final,” said Williams, at 37 the oldest woman to play in a title match at the grass-court major since 1994. “It’s just about playing a little better.”

She appeared ready to take control Saturday, ahead 5-4 in the first set and with Muguruza serving at 15-40. But Williams netted a forehand to close a 20-stroke exchange on the first set point. And on the second, she sent a return long. Muguruza would go on to win that game — and the next eight, too, to earn her third Grand Slam trophy.

Williams owns seven of them — five at Wimbledon in 2000-01, 2005, 2007 and 2008; two at the U.S. Open in 2000-01.

But her coach, David Witt, offered one explanation for the way everything came undone for Williams against Muguruza.

“It was just nerves,” Witt said.

“She never, I thought, looked like she was relaxed out there,” he added.

Williams arrived in England a few weeks after being involved in a two-car accident in Florida. Two weeks after the crash, a 78-year-old passenger in the other vehicle died. At a news conference following her first-round victory at Wimbledon, Williams was asked about the episode, and she tried to respond, before wiping away tears and briefly leaving the room to compose herself.

Witt said they hadn’t discussed what happened with each other once the tournament began, hoping Williams could “just focus on the tennis.”

Up until late in the first set Saturday, Williams did play quite well.

In 2011, she revealed she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that can cause exhaustion and joint pain. Williams has since spoken about how she turned to a plant-based diet and learned other ways to get by. A half-dozen exits from majors after her opening match made some think Williams might stop playing tennis, let alone return to its biggest stages.

“There were definitely,” Williams said this week, “some issues.”

But she never lost her love for the sport or a desire to get her game back in order.

“I’m just very surprised that she’s hungry to keep winning. She has won almost everything. She’s not (still) young, to be looking forward to all these matches. She just shows this toughness,” Muguruza said. “I don’t know if I will be like this at her age.”

The strongest initial sign of a renaissance for Williams came during a run to the Wimbledon semifinals a year ago. Then, this January, she got to the Australian Open final for the first time since 2003, losing to her sister, Serena Williams. And then came these past two weeks and her first appearance in the Wimbledon final since a loss to Serena in 2009.

“I’ve been in a position a lot of times this year to contend for big titles. That’s the kind of position I want to keep putting myself in,” Williams said. “It’s just about getting over the line. I believe I can do that.”

She was asked more than once by reporters Saturday whether the Sjogren’s or the accumulated fatigue or her age played a role in the way the match unfolded. But Williams deflected those questions, instead offering praise of Muguruza, whose power and precision gave the American problems.

“Credit to her,” Williams said. “She just dug in there.”

Williams hit five double-faults, three in one game and once to get broken to begin the second set. She finished with 25 unforced errors, more than twice as many as Muguruza.

“She started pressing in the second,” Witt observed, “and balls were flying out like you don’t see.”

This was Williams’ 16th Grand Slam final, second of 2017.

She sounded certain that it won’t be the last.

Asked during the on-court trophy presentation if she had a message for Serena, who is off the tour while expecting a baby, Venus said: “Oh, I miss you. I tried my best to do the same things you do, but I think that there’ll be other opportunities. I do.”

After all that’s gone on, why doubt her now?

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