Off-court distractions and the corporate dollar, it was said, had dulled their competitive instincts. Money was supposed to be the new driver. Worst of all, the sisters were considered not to care any more for the game that made them.
But Venus Williams cared plenty yesterday. She played like a pauper fighting for a dime in the dust, at the same time glorying not only herself but also the family brand. This Williams, at least, is back.
The vanquished champion, Maria Sharapova, must have left last night with the awful realisation that she was defeated not because she played badly, rather because she was not good enough, the victim of a beautiful resurrection.
Indeed, the notion must have settled in her head very early on. She might have expected the old Venus Williams, the one who took time off the game and then found it difficult to get back on the carousel. Tennis waits for no woman, not even a dual Wimbledon champion.
The plainest indication of Williams' descent was her position as this year's No 14 seed. Absence makes the timing go yonder, and this has had particularly dramatic effect on the unconventional Williams strokes. When she gets it wrong, her long arms and legs flail around like a stricken helicopter.
When she got it right yesterday the same limbs were devastating.
The American appeared to be heavier of stroke from the outset, also swifter into the corners on retrieval missions. Her own depth of shot was impeccable. Sharapova was driven so wide during rallies that, on three occasions, she had to play a left-handed shot on her backhand wing.
The Russian's own efforts to get her drives going were thwarted by the huge wingspan of the albatross of the women's game. Williams would not be passed.
It took until deuce in the first game for the first grunt to arrive and then it was a co-ordinated effort from both sides of the net. Sharapova never stopped thereafter. The champion's heavy wheeze has been interpreted as an acoustic nudge, a noise designed to unbalance her opponent. She could have shouted in Williams' ear and it would have made no difference.
At 1-4 in the second set, her service dropped twice, Sharapova was like a fish twitching on deck. She tried everything she had not already, the desperate repertoire of first a drop shot and then a volley. Both failed.
To the end, Venus Williams had her face fixed in snarled concentration. The fighter from the ghetto had beaten not only Maria Sharapova but also the impostor she had become. "It doesn't matter who's across the net," she said. "It doesn't matter what they hit. It's all about you."Reuse content