Venus Williams won a first-round match on a side court on the opening day of Wimbledon on Monday, and it was a big deal.
OK, maybe not for anybody other than die-hard Venus Williams fans and Venus herself.
It isn't as if anybody is expecting her to win here. She turned 34 last week, is ranked 31st in the world and seeded 30th. She may be the Big Sis in the Williams family, but Little Sis has been the showstopper for some time.
Don't get the wrong idea. This isn't a story about sisters and jealousy. Venus was asked here, after her 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor of Spain, what her best moment at Wimbledon was. She said it was her Olympic gold medal in doubles with sister Serena at Wimbledon in 2012, their third gold medal together.
That answer, if taken to be sincere, is remarkable on many levels, considering that Venus, not Serena, was once the biggest queen not named Elizabeth at Wimbledon. She has won five times, same as Serena, and had a shot in the finals at three more, losing each time to, yup, Little Sis.
Venus won her first Wimbledon title in 2000. Including that year, there have been 14 women's singles titles contested since 1999. Ten of them have been won by a Williams sister. There ought to be a trivia question: Who are the interlopers?
And the answer: In '04, Maria Sharapova; '06 Andy Murray's now-famous coach Amelie Mauresmo; '11 Petra Kvitova, and last year, Marion Bartoli.
Nice of the Williams sisters to spread it around.
Serena is seeded No. 1 here and plays her first match Tuesday. Venus is yesteryear. And with reason.
In 2011, after battling terrible bouts of fatigue, she was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome. It is a complicated and hard-to-diagnose disorder that has, as one of its many symptoms, debilitating fatigue. That's not a real good situation for a world-class tennis player.
She has battled that, changed her diet, modified her training, and, despite being at an age when tennis players gravitate to the broadcast booth or the couch at home, she is giving it another go. And she is philosophical about it.
"You just get diagnosed when you have the symptoms," she said. "It took a long time. Unfortunately it's not something you had, it's something you have.
"So on a daily basis, I try to get the best out of myself. That's all I can ask.…"
Her match against Torro-Flor dictated that need.
Torro-Flor was a one-year veteran of Wimbledon. She is 12 years younger than Williams, is ranked No. 56 and is just starting her career. Her Wimbledon record is now 1-2, Williams' 72-11.
But Torro-Flor didn't bow and crumble before her famous and intimidating opponent. She had things to offer: a go-for-broke forehand, a huge serve and two hyphens. Williams could match two of those three, and did.
She hit 11 aces, converted on all three of the break points she got, and lost the second set only when her soft return of Torro-Flor's drop shot on set point clipped the net and drifted just wide.
"I stayed focused in the third set," Williams said, "because you've got to play it."
The match took 1 hour 46 minutes, or about 46 minutes longer than Williams would have liked. She was philosophical about that too.
"Trying to conserve is not the right mentality," she said. "You have to go out there and give it your all, and just play smart. That's a better way to put it."
It is fairly clear why she is here, after missing last year completely ("I couldn't even serve") and going out in the first round the year before. This amounts to one last grasp at the brass ring by a very able senior citizen — able in shots and court knowledge, questionable in health.
Her summary was best:
"I have nothing to prove, nothing to hide, nothing to lose," she said.
She stressed that she has kept plenty of life away from tennis and is having fun with that. Case in point, her modeling nude for ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue, which apparently is meant to do what ESPN has always done best: exploit celebrity for its own means and promote itself.
Why did she do it?
"I think because Serena did it," she said. "…She was a big influence on me."
No. 1 Serena and No. 30 Venus are on opposite sides of the draw. Don't get your hopes up just yet for another family final. A climb back of that proportion would be Everest-like for Venus Williams.
But rest assured about one thing. If that happens, they will play with their clothes on.
This is, after all, still Wimbledon.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times