It was a great story, minus the storybook ending.
Venus Williams is 37 years old. She has been living for the past six years with Sjogren’s syndrome, a brutal autoimmune disease that drains her energy and causes debilitating joint pain. More recently, she has been the focal point of a police investigation into a fatal car crash in Florida and a subsequent lawsuit.
She broke down while discussing the tragedy during a news conference at Wimbledon two weeks ago. A few days later, police released a video of the accident along with a statement that Williams had entered the intersection “lawfully.” Police did not say who was at fault for the collision.
Yet despite this incredible stress, there she was standing on the precipice of history Saturday as she attempted to become the oldest female player to win a Grand Slam event in the Open Era.
It was not to be. After beating six younger women to get to her first Wimbledon final since 2009, Williams did not have the staying power to get past the seventh, losing to 23-year-old Garbine Muguruza, 7-5, 6-0.
The ending was shockingly abrupt for fans who have been following the career of Williams and her sister, Serena, for more than two decades. Again and again, we’ve watched the Williams sisters deal with the twin-headed monster of racism and sexism. We’ve watched them become the targets of body-shaming and most recently be sucked into a firestorm after tennis great John McEnroe told NPR that Serena would be ranked No. 700 if she played in the men’s game.
If the Williams sisters can beat all that, was it really too much to expect a 37-year-old to beat a player who was a year old when Venus turned pro?
A victory would have meant a great deal to Venus. This was her 20th Wimbledon. She last won a singles title here in 2008, then announced three years later that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s.
Many thought the condition would end her career. She cut back on her training. She changed to a plant-based diet. But for four years, from 2011-2014, she failed to advance past the fourth round in singles in any Grand Slam tournament.
Her resurgence started a year ago at Wimbledon when she made it to the semifinals. Then Williams reached the final at the Australian Open in January before losing to her sister, who was pregnant.
Venus steamrolled through the tournament before losing to Muguruza on Saturday. Entering the final, she had lost only one set, and she looked strong early against Muguruza.
She twice was a point away from winning the opening set and led 5-4 while Muguruza served at 15-40. Muguruza’s first save was a 19-stroke rally that ended when Williams netted a forehand. Muguruza then took the set in the next game on another long rally that ended in a forehand error.
Williams would not win another game, and the match ended in the most anticlimactic of manners when she hit a shot that landed long but was ruled in. Muguruza challenged the call, and after a delay, the review showed the ball was out. Muguruza, who grew up watching Venus play at Wimbledon, dropped to her knees on the court to celebrate.
Williams dealt with the loss with the same incredible grace she has used to deal with most of her other challenges. The Williams sisters have always written their own stories instead of adhering to others’ preconceived plot lines. It was clear that Venus wanted to add a special chapter for the family Saturday while Serena, who is eight months’ pregnant, was sitting out the tournament.
When asked after the match if she had a message for Serena, Venus replied: “I miss you. I tried my best to do the same things you do, but I think there will be other opportunities. I do.”
Maybe we still will get the storybook ending.