Venus Williams is turning 40. That doesn't mean she's about to fall out of love with tennis. For Venus, hitting tennis balls never gets old. "I love what I do," she reflected recently. "It's a privilege to still be good at it."
Twenty years after landing her first Grand Slam singles title, as a 20-year-old at the 2000 Wimbledon Championships, her love for tennis is as strong as ever. It's that desire, according to Chris Evert and Pam Shriver, that has allowed the American to carry on competing (even though, as with everyone else in tennis, her WTA career is currently on pause). A force in her teens, a serial champion in her 20s, and still good enough in her late 30s to reach Grand Slam finals, Williams is the 40-something icon who still gets a thrill out of being on court.
Read more: Venus Williams - 40 great moments
Indeed, she is still chasing the Golden Slam, holding onto dreams of winning both the Australian and French Open to complete her set in singles.
"You always have to have dreams, so I keep having them," Williams told the Tennis Majors website. "I would like to win Roland Garros. I was not far from it. The same goes for the Australian Open: I was unlucky, I always missed it a little."
Such drive has inspired admiration in those who appreciate the historical context of her achievements.
"I am amazed at how passionate and committed she is at the age of 40," Evert told wtatennis.com. "The thing that impresses me is her intensity and the fact she still competes at the highest level after 20-plus years. She still loves the game, the competition, the training, the travel, the challenge, the pressure and the stage. When someone starts competing at a high level on the pro tour as a teenager, I wouldn’t expect to see them at 40 still going strong."
Serena Williams is chasing history and a 24th Grand Slam singles title that would see her equal Margaret Court's all-time record. Her elder sister, herself a former WTA World No.1, but now ranked 67th, is playing for different reasons - because she loves it, and why would she want to give it up? "Venus says it over and over again how much she loves the sport," Shriver told wtatennis.com.
In Shriver's analysis, Williams' interests away from the courts - which have included live workouts on Instagram during lockdown and Game On!, a game show airing on US TV - have allowed her to maintain her passion for tennis. "If you looked at a pie-chart of her life, tennis would be a nice piece of the pie, but it would just be a piece and not the whole pie, and she doesn't really feel as though she needs to get rid of it whatever age she is," Shriver said. "I think those outside interests have contributed to her being able to play on, having that balance, and not being so obsessed and mono-focused on tennis. Her design business and her other interests outside tennis have been a reason she has lasted so long."
Both Evert and Shriver remarked on the "grace" that Williams, a winner of seven Grand Slam singles titles, has shown after being eclipsed by her younger sister in terms of total titles. "Venus is so impressive and what strikes me the most is how gracious and supportive she is of her younger sister. It’s not the usual pecking order. She has handled it with grace," said Evert. Shriver observed: "I've seen her play through her sister passing her. She's been able to handle that with grace. She has handled some major slides down the rankings, and lived comfortably in her own skin wherever she was in the rankings. She's comfortable just being Venus."
Williams hasn't just been combating Father Time; she also been dealing with an auto-immune disorder, Sjögren's syndrome, which was diagnosed in 2011. "It depends on your brain type but I think it's harder physically than mentally at 40," said Shriver. "If you close your eyes and think of Venus in the prime of her career, and the ferocity of her movement, and her height, there are certain parts of her body which must be older than 40 in terms of wear and tear. She's an athlete who could actually benefit from a long layoff as she could come back even sharper and fitter. When the pandemic is over, and tennis continues, I'd like to see her return in even better shape."
Asked by CBS last month what advice her 40-year-old self would have for her 20-year-old self, Venus replied: "I think my 20-year-old self would give some advice to me. Honestly, she was killer. I watch some of those films and my face was unbelievable. You could see the killer instinct. So maybe my 20-year-old self needs to give me some advice. But I'm grateful for every single year."