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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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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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Another Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal being sold

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One of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Olympic gold medals will be put up for sale next week by Goldin Auctions.

Owens triumphed in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at the Berlin Games, taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

This could be the second Owens gold to be sold in recent years, after one was auctioned in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Two more were said to be put up for auction in 2017, but there are no widespread reports of sales actually happening.

This gold medal was gifted by Owens to John Terpak, a U.S. Olympic weightlifter in 1936 and 1948, after Terpak helped Owens garner speaking engagements, according to Goldin. The previous gold that sold for $1.4 million was gifted by Owens to a different friend.

Terpak died in 1993 and passed the medal on to his son and daughter, who consigned it to Goldin.

The medal is part of Goldin Auctions’ Holiday Auction from Monday through Dec. 7 on GoldinAuctions.com. The listings also include Tommy Lasorda‘s autographed lineup card from the 2000 Olympic baseball gold-medal game.

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