LONGEVITY – “long existence or service; great duration of individual life.”
To display longevity in any sport is a remarkable feat. Professional sport is relentlessly physical, mentally demanding. It takes over your life both on and off the field, both on and off the camera. To compete for many years in your chosen discipline shows a staying power, a talent and a determination that would be valuable qualities in any person.
To have a career that extended into a tennis player’s thirties was rarely considered in the women’s game not so long ago. The most successful stars were in their late teens and early twenties, and many who had pushed themselves past their limits from ages six and seven were calling time on their careers just a few years later. To stick around on tour at all – as 34-year-old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a Grand Slam semifinalist for the first time in 18 years at the Australian Open, has done – was considered a brilliant achievement. To stick around for fifteen years whilst near the top of the sport was considered incredible.
So what is it to have been on tour for 20 years plus, and during that time have fought through a debilitating illness for six years? To have seen your ranking rise to the heights and fall to the depths? To have journalists asking you when you will retire after virtually every loss – and more than a few wins? To be hated because of your colour? To be hated because of your dominance? To be hated because of your confidence and your belief? To have people telling you to quit when they can’t imagine the physical struggles you’re going through and competing through on a day to day basis?
To end up on the brink of literal death in the prime of your career, and yet come back to tennis so ferociously and so phenomenally that you become the greatest of all time?
This is longevity at its finest. A longevity that is seriously tough to even begin to describe. And this is the longevity of 36-year-old Venus Williams, and her 35-year-old sister Serena.
Over the years, I feel I have written countless articles lauding the triumphs of the women who began to excel professionally while still teenagers. I have shunned the accusations whenever the notion – or even the desire – circulates that Serena Williams’ domination is in the past. I have called out as rubbish the idea that Venus Williams is no longer one of the world’s best. Twice a semifinalist in the last three major events, at a time in her life when many players would have long been retired, has enough to say about that.
Fifteen years ago, the Williams sisters became world no. 1 and 2 side by side. And thanks to God-given talent and sheer hard work, they still have more to give. Whatever happens on Thursday, it cannot break their legacy.
As Serena, searching for a record 23rd Grand Slam title, loves to say: “Everything is a bonus.”
These two champions transformed women’s tennis – pioneering massive, versatile serves, and leading the era of breathtakingly powerful groundstroke games, while still possessing repertoires bursting with skilful shots. Their dominance has taken them to 29 major singles titles combined, and 14 doubles titles picked up as a team. So when it comes to commenting on another awesome achievement by the duo, it is hard to think of anything to say that I have not already said. It is hard to know where to begin, and harder still to know where to stop. There is only so much vocabulary in the world.
So, personally, this is the best tribute that I can offer right now:
At the age of ten, Venus and Serena Williams became my first memory of tennis – inspiring me to follow the sport which I have grown to adore, to study, and to write about. And on my twentieth birthday, they will play to meet in a Grand Slam final once again.
That is true longevity, and that is the mark of two true champions. Because while there is even the faintest glimmer of hope, true champions never give up.
Thanks for reading! What are your favourite memories of Venus and Serena? Feel free to share them in the comments section.