WIMBLEDON, England — The end came quickly, in contrast to Venus Williams’ long, historic career.
She not only lost what likely could be the last Wimbledon final in which she plays, Williams was battered, perhaps as much by time as her opponent, the new champion, Garbine Muguruza.
One moment Saturday it seemed Williams was in control, ahead 5-4 and twice a point away from breaking Muguruza’s serve and winning the first set. The next moment she had lost nine straight games and the match, 7-5, 6-0, and Muguruza playfully was balancing the trophy, the Venus Rosewater plate, on her head.
Suddenly, at 37, Williams’ age seemed to catch up with her as much as Muguruza’s forehands.
Her attempt to become the oldest woman’s champion in the open era, which began in 1968, and the second-oldest in the 131 years of Wimbledons came to shattering finish.
There were reminders of the final days of Joe Namath or Willie Mays, of a great athlete who had stayed too long at the fair, although Williams, just by getting as far as she did by winning her six previous matches, showed she still belongs among the best.
The problem is she way she closed, or the way Muguruza closed out Williams.
“There’s errors and you can’t make them,” said Williams. “I went for some big shots, and they didn’t land. I think she played amazing. I’ve had a great two weeks.”
That was it.
But on BBC television, John McEnroe, never short of opinions, wondered if Williams was feeling the effects of the autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, she announced she had in 2011, or the effects of the two weeks of competition.
“Her forehand let her down,” said McEnroe, the New Yorker who won Wimbledon three times. “Her legs looked old. She has Muguruza down 15-40 to win the first set, and it was like a punch in the gut.”
More like some beautiful ground strokes from Muguruza, who won a 19-stroke rally that appeared to deflate Williams.
When asked if she were tired, Williams, to her credit only would say, “She played amazing.”
Muguruza is only the second Spaniard to take the women’s singles title of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships. The other, Conchita Martinez, defeated another 37-year-old, Martina Navratilova, in the 1994 final. Martinez now is one of Muguruza’s coaches
Navratilova won nine Wimbledons. Williams won five and, including this one, has been a finalist four other times. Venus’ younger sister, Serena, beat Muguruza in the 2015 final.
“She told me one day I’m going to win,” Muguruza said about Serena. “And here I am.”
The day began with a light rain, and so the folding translucent roof over Centre Court was closed. That didn’t appear to make any difference except in crowd noise, although other than on Williams’ thundering ace on the very first shot of the match the fans were relatively subdued until the closing games of the first set.
Then, as Venus faded and Muguruza, the 2016 French Open champion, took control, some began to shout encouragement — “Come on, Venus” — but it was of little use.
“Her mind, her body,” McEnroe said of Williams, “wasn’t up to the task.”
Williams lost in the semifinals last year and in January reached the finals of the Australian Open, only to lose to Serena, who then announced she was awaiting the birth of her first child and would not compete for a while. Venus will enter the U.S. Open next month at Flushing Meadows.
“Yeah, definitely that I’m in good form,” she insisted. “I’ve been in a position this year to contend for big titles. That’s the kind of position I want to keep putting myself in. It’s just about getting over the line. I believe I can do that.
“I like to win. I don’t want to just get to the final. It’s just about playing a little better.”