WIMBLEDON, England — The question is whether the difference was the passing shots or the passing of the years.
If there is anything that sport emphasizes, it’s that an athlete’s days are limited, that in the end, no matter the talent, no matter the sport, Father Time — or Mother Time — always wins.
There she was, the young lady with beads in her hair and skill in her shots, that evening in 1994 at Oakland, the building now called Oracle Arena, Venus Williams, making a winning debut and sending notice.
And then there she was Monday, more than two decades later, facing and losing to, well, at age 15, a kid really, Cori Gauff, who shed a few tears and shared a few dreams after defeating Venus, 6-4, 6-4, in her first main draw match at Wimbledon.
Although she is 39 and has lost in straight sets in the first round of consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, the French in May and Wimbledon a few weeks later, it may be premature to say Venus is of the past. But it is on target to describe Gauff as very much part of the future.
“I’ve had some amazing times here,” said Williams, a five-time Wimbledon singles champion, sounding more nostalgic than disappointed.
Gauff, whose father, Corey, played basketball at Georgia State and whose mother, Candi, was a track and field athlete at Florida State, was almost in disbelief after the victory over a woman she called an idol.
“I don’t know how to feel,” said Gauff. “It’s the first time I cried after a match. She told me just to stay strong and keep going. I told her I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. I wanted to tell her that even though I hadn’t met her before. I just had the guts to tell her.”
And the guts to outplay her. Even though Venus is less than the great player of the 2000s, she remains a force on the WTA Tour — and intends to stay around. Asked if she would return next Wimbledon, Williams said, “That’s the plan.”
After walking off Court One to a huge, deserved ovation following a match that lasted 1 hour 19 minutes, Gauff said her plan was to stay calm.
“I had never played on a court that big,” said Gauff. “I had to remind myself that the lines are the same size as on every court.”
Venus battled, as would be expected from a player so experienced and admired, fighting off match point three times until Gauff hit an unreturnable ball. Then, like that, the balance of tennis had changed from one generation to another.
Young players have been in the draw before, earning their way through points, but Gauff is the youngest ever to make it through qualifying.
“I’m really happy to see her playing great,” a gracious Williams said of Gauff. “I think the sky’s the limit.”
Predictions don’t always come true, but Gauff has a consistent game embellished with an effective serve, if not one as blistering as the one Venus once possessed.
Of the two Williams sisters, Venus, the older, is more measured and less emotional in her words than Serena. While readily offering praise to Gauff, there were no wild comments about the future.
“Just have fun,” was Venus' advice when asked how Gauff could escape what surely will be growing expectations.
“Enjoy life. That’s the best you can do.”
No question Gauff enjoyed the match and, of course, the result.
“I take what I want, definitely aggressive,” said Gauff of her tennis game. ”Right now I’m super shocked, but I’m super blessed. I literally got my dream draw. I kind of knew it was coming, (but) you’re still shocked when you beat your hero in the first round.”