Wimbledon 2014: Careworn Venus Williams feels happy ‘just to keep going’


Click to follow
The Independent Online

At 34, and with almost $30m (£17.5m) in prize-money banked, Venus Williams is excused the requirement to gush on sunny days at Wimbledon. Even so, a smile here and there would be nice.

For the first time since 2011 Williams takes her place in the second round of a tournament she has won five times. Last year she was absent with a back injury. In 2012 the pain was in the neck after losing in the opening round – to Elena Vesnina – for the first time since her debut last century. 

You might think a 75th win at Wimbledon, eclipsing Steffi Graf’s total, might stimulate fresh enthusiasms, but it was a careworn visage that Williams presented after her 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.

“It was a challenge against someone playing inspired tennis. It feels good to win and advance to the next round. That always helps. I am not here to surprise anyone. I’ve nothing to prove and nothing to lose. I’m just going to keep going,” Williams said.

It must be remembered that Williams continues to manage Sjogren’s Syndrome, a debilitating auto-immune condition first diagnosed three years ago. While we acknowledge that, no-one is forcing her to compete. “Unfortunately, it is not something that you had but something that you have. I just try to get the best out of myself every day.”

Williams faces Japan’s Kurumi Nara in the second round tomorrow, her 88th Wimbledon contest. Only three women, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Billie-Jean King, and one man, Jimmy Connors, have played more.

The great hope of American tennis, heir to the Williams sisters, Sloane Stephens, is learning the hard way about life after novelty. A quarter-finalist last year, the 21-year-old fell in straight sets to the former teenage poster girl of Russian tennis, Maria Kirilenko, now a relative veteran at 27 and branching out into film, having already played the role of Ludmila Pelikhova in the 2013 film Vamp U.

Stephens, seeded 18, was given the honour of opening business on Court 18, the perfect athletic adornment to a sun-bleached morning in the capital. Coached by Paul Annacone, guru to the great Pete Sampras, Stephens has reached the point in her winless career where a leap needs to be made.

She was identified as the future of the women’s game when she passed briefly through the Nick Bollettieri Florida regime as a 15-year-old. Her semi-final appearance at last year’s Australian Open is thus far her career apotheosis. After fourth -ound exits in Australia and the French this year, she had hoped Wimbledon might be a springboard to that higher plane. 

“I’m so sorry for those who now don’t have to write about me this week and next,” she said. “This is the first time I have lost in the first round of a slam. It feels like the end of the world right now. Of course, it’s not. Sometimes you have to be a big girl and work through your difficulties.”

Two-time Australian Open champion, Victoria Azerenka, enjoyed a straightforward passage into the second round beating Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-3 7-5. She knows better than any that victory is no guarantee of a place in the second round.

A knee injury sustained during her opening encounter a year ago forced a tearful withdrawal. So painful was the experience, emotionally as well as physically, Azerenka can hardly bear to reflect.

“I don’t remember last year much,” she said. “It’s been so long ago.  It was great today, to step for the first time on the court with the fresh grass, with those lines just lined, it was beautiful. 

“I don’t think it’s really important what happened last year. I was really happy to go out there and play. It’s a beautiful court. It’s a beautiful tournament. so no bad thoughts. I was super happy to get a win.”

Come in No 17, your time is up. Sam “boulders for shoulders” Stosur claimed the unwanted mantle of first seed to fall, losing in straight sets to Yanina Wickmayer. This is not a new phenomenon for the 30-year-old Australian, who split with coach Miles Maclagan last week. She has lost in the opening round on seven occasions. 

Stosur was, however, not the first player out of the tournament. That distinction fell to Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, blown away 6-0, 6-4 by Russia’s Elena Vesnina.   

Australian Open champion and No 2 seed, Li Na, is safely into the second round after a 7-5, 6-2 win against Paula Kania.