It’s still not a question most people would dare to ask. Legends. Icons. Athletes and world-changers who have incomparably influenced the sports landscape don’t get told when it’s time to leave. Certainly not Venus or Serena Williams.
The sisters have been at the top of the food chain for so long that it seems as if time has stood still so that every generation possible can get a glimpse of American royalty. Serena is 34 with a 24-year-old body and an ageless game. Venus, however, has been riding her little sister's coattails for some years now.
Together, they are still impenetrable, but it's clear that they have very separate realities as they enter into their third decade in the game.
Venus' steady decline continued on Sunday as she got straight-set swept (6-4, 6-2) in the first round of Australian Open by Johanna Konta. It’s possible that the 22-time Grand Slam champ could have just had a bad day. Unfortunately I’m noticing a pattern of decline which coincides with 22 years as a pro and a 36-year-old body that can’t possibly continue to function as an unstoppable machine.
To put it simply, the Fountain of Youth is running dry for one of tennis’ titans. At times she even appears almost uninterested. In her first match of 2016, Venus took a first-round L to Russian Daria Kasatkina, the 75th-ranked player in the world (6-7, 6-3, 6-3) at a tournament in New Zealand.
The fact that Venus' quarterfinal tournament showing in last year's Australian Open (after suffering a first-round exit in 2014 at the hands of Ekaterina Makarova) was being celebrated as a “return to form,” shows you how far she has fallen, if not in rankings (currently No. 10 WTA-ranked) then in tennis potency. In fact, entering that tournament Venus was the 37th-ranked seed.
Entering this Australian Open, Venus was just a 3-1 favorite over her no-name opponent. So the upset is not a monumental one. Those odds, however, are a clear indication that her name doesn't hold the same weight in Vegas anymore.
The first month of 2016 has been a rough one for Venus and there have been whispers about her decline, medical problems and injuries for years now. She was constantly asked about retirement after that 2014 Open loss.
At the time, she remained optimistic and refused to consider calling it quits. All legends have their ups and downs, but getting smoked by two obscure youngsters right out of the gate isn’t a good sign.
Maybe Venus can turn her 2016 around. It’s very early in the season, but the writing is on the wall. From her first Grand Slam title in 1997 through 2011, Venus had only been eliminated in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament three times. Her last Grand Slam singles title was Wimbledon in 2008. Since 2012, she’s had a first-round Grand Slam elimination each season.
Serena is a bit younger and her thirst for victory is insatiable. Her passion for the game has always exceeded Venus’ and her older sister will admit it. Serena’s not much younger than her sis, but her skills haven’t deteriorated at the rate Venus’ have. She’s coming off a rare calendar Grand Slam in 2015 and the newbies haven’t caught up to her yet.
You have to wonder how long Venus will continue to play if she keeps getting served with early exits. She has nothing left to prove as an American icon and tennis superstar. I’m sure she has myriad interests she’d like to pursue.
Best believe, Venus is sitting up at nights wondering if she should call it a career. Nobody would blame her.