Venus (Surp)rising: On Indian Wells and Victory

The 35-year-old’s return after 15 years is much more than the end of a boycott. (AP Photo)

One day you will miss her. She will take her final stroll as an active sportswoman and she will exit that stadium tunnel for the last time.


In all the hoopla of the Australian Open, of the domination of an unparalleled Novak Djokovic and a resurrected Martina Hingis, of the all-too-human Serena Williams, another story received not finality but a mere introduction. It is yet to be written. 


During the second week of the year’s first Grand Slam, Venus Williams announced that she will return to the WTA Tour’s event in Indian Wells, Calif. in March. She did so with far less fanfare than did her younger sister one year ago, when Serena disclosed in an essay for TIME magazine’s website that she would come back to the site of so much family pain and angst. Years earlier, Serena addressed the Williams clan’s anguish over what happened on a fateful, frenzied day in 2001 in her autobiography, On the Line


As for Venus, she has addressed Indian Wells scuttlebutt and speculation over the years when facing the press. Perhaps what is most telling about her approach to the seething-then-simmering situation is shown in the focus of her own tome. Come to Win is a series of vignettes about elected officials and business leaders, artists and “visionaries,” who she esteems. To whom she wants to give a voice. That’s so Venus—forever surrendering the microphone, the chance to be louder, to others, to another, to her sister.


“I’m fortune to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove,” Serena wrote in TIME. The truth is that her elder sister, wise beyond her nearly 36 years, stands on that same ground now, as she has for years. 


Yes, Venus will grace the Indian Wells event with her presence for the first time in 15 years. This is much more than the end of a boycott, though. And it’s certainly more than a stateside tour stop. This is forgiveness and grace in action. This is one of those things we so rarely get to see. This will be one of those times when humanity and personhood supersede mere sport. It’s easy to understand how these returns mean so much to the Williamses. As with their treasured Olympic appearances, decorated with medals, this is the highest level of human spirit on display for the world to see.


May Venus return victorious. And that doesn’t mean winning her first match back on those Southern California hard courts. After all, Serena herself struggled to a 7-5, 7-5 victory against veteran Monica Niculescu, actually six years Serena’s junior, in her own reintroduction to Indian Wells. What will scream “victory!” for Venus will be that she shows up.


As with so many victories, Venus has known defeat as well. Her most excruciating losses, those that have kept her from a double-digit major singles haul, have come courtesy of her sister’s searing repertoire. She is no stranger to setbacks away from tennis courts either; those are merely a trifle compared to losing a sister to violence and searching for answers to a debilitating, energy-sapping condition. Being able to call an ailment by name—Sjogren’s Syndrome—was the start to taking away its power. It will always be there, and it may be what does her in, for lack of better words, when it is the end. And that end will come. As with any great athlete, it’s simply a matter of time.


But don’t expect her to go gently into the good night. Just as when Venus entered the sport’s stage, all brash swagger and beaded hair, she will have words. She will have her say at the end, whenever that may be. In recent years, and last year when she re-entered the game’s Top 10, she has revealed that it’s her call. It’s her right alone to decide when to cease raising a racquet and raining down those booming serves.


She’s one of the best, so you best miss her. She’s not done, though. There she is, turning disappointment Down Under into a national team victory in Hawaii. And there she is again, jetting to Taiwan to play in yet another tournament.

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