What Venus Williams did is why she’s a champion
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — There’s no real explanation, other than the fact that what Venus Williams did Saturday evening, in her case not unique but still very special, is the reason she is a champion — and apparently intends to remain one until the Twelfth of Never.
Here are the numbers: She is three months from her 39th birthday. She was facing the third seed, Petra Kvitova, very much a winner herself with two Wimbledon victories. She was down a set and a double break.
And she won, defeating a flummoxed Kvitova, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, over 2 hours 27 minutes in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open.
No questions about when Venus might retire.
No questions about what befell her in this tournament in 2001, when she withdrew from a semi against sister Serena, the crowd booed Serena in the final and, citing racism, the Williamses boycotted the event for 14 years.
Only references to her persistence and to the vocal support of the crowd for someone who, having come from straight out of Compton — maybe 100 miles west but a world away in lifestyle — was sort of a hometown lady.
“I’m definitely playing with the home crowd here,” she said joyously, “and I hopefully can take advantage of that energy and momentum. It is exciting to have everyone behind you and to feel that energy. I enjoy it.”
Kvitova, the No. 3 seed — Venus, unseeded, is 36th in the WTA rankings, which is the reason these two were forced to play in the third round — could only shake her head in disbelief at the result.
“Suddenly I was like playing,” Kvitova said, “but I really wasn’t there. It was such a weird feeling. It’s always tough to play Venus, for sure.”
Kvitova, 29, of course has had greater problems in her life. In December 2016 a man entered her apartment in the Czech Republic and stabbed her repeatedly in the racquet hand. That she was able to play again a few months later was considered a miracle. Even the other day she said a complete recovery is unlikely, that there still is numbness in the tips of two fingers.
But that’s not the reason Venus, in effect, stole the match.
“I started to miss so much,” said Kvitova. “I didn’t put the first serve in. Again, that happens, like any other match, I should just be strong mentally. I should change it. But I just couldn’t do it.”
Venus could. The older and more reserved of the Williams sisters, Venus goes about her business like an accountant, reserved and thinking.
“Honestly,” Venus agreed, “it seemed like I played even better when I was down.”
She did, certainly, or she wouldn’t have won, no matter how Kvitova played.
“I really didn’t have any other choice,” said Williams, “because (at the point) she was playing so well and serving so well. So it’s nice to know that in that sort of situation I can still play and lift my level.”
On occasion, if not constantly, as when she was younger. Yet, this one match stands out among the Wimbledon and U.S. Open other titles. Somehow the great ones raise their game, and that’s why they’re great.
“I like to also know I have opportunities all the time,” she said, “and that I can create those opportunities. So even when it’s not looking great, I know the match isn’t over yet.”
That’s what coaches and teachers preach, isn’t it? Never give up. Tennis is timeless. There’s no clock. Just win a point. Then another point.
Williams had dropped the first set and trailed 3-0 in the second. Bye, Venus. Whoops. Forgot who we were dealing with, an athlete who has been there and done that — and, as victory over Kvitova reaffirms, keeps doing it.
That celebration, the way she hoisted her head after the final point, was every bit as emotional as any in her remarkable career.
“Yeah, the match we played,” Williams said, “was definitely worthy of a final. It’s not ideal for her to see me in her part of the draw. I don’t think anybody wants that.”
Want it or not, that’s what Petra Kvitova got.