Williams needs to shine at Auckland WTA Classic

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 29/12/2013
Venus Williams
MICHAEL BRADLEY/Fairfax NZ
STAR ON SHOW: Venus Williams had a hit around in front of Auckland Museum yesterday.

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At the age of 33, the clock is ticking pretty loudly on Venus Williams' career.

It's often said about sportspeople that their legacy isn't always based on what they did over their career, but what they did last.

George Best isn't necessarily remembered as one of the greatest ever footballers, but being a drunk who wasted his talents.

Muhammad Ali is undoubtedly the greatest ever boxer, but the images we have of him engraved in our minds is of a tired, overweight, disoriented man.

Neither of the Williams sisters have cared much about world rankings. For them, winning Grand Slams has been more important than collecting ranking points at lesser events. Even so, to see Williams languishing at 47 in the rankings is sad for anyone who followed her during her best years.

For all that Williams has achieved on a tennis court, she's in danger of becoming a circus act if her career continues on its downward spiral.

The last time she won a Grand Slam was at Wimbledon in 2008 and the only title she's taken in the last three years was a second tier one in Luxembourg in 2012.

Between April and September this year she won just two matches.

In the past, when she lost a match in the early rounds of a tournament, it was major news. But it slowly became the norm.

It isn't that she's losing to the world's best players either. This year she lost to the likes of world No 66 Johanna Larsson, Laura Robson (39), Urszula Radwanska (40), Zhang Jie (56) and Olga Puchkova (109).

Her sister Serena, who's just 15 months younger, continues to dominate women's tennis as world No 1 and won Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year.

While the writing may be on the wall for Venus, it's not all doom and gloom. In Tokyo in September she beat Azarenka and Simona Halep on the way to the semifinals, where she lost to Petra Kvitova in a third set tiebreak.

Those results showed she still has the potential to win a 45th tournament and with the highest ranked player in Auckland this week being Roberta Vinci at 14, this is a grand opportunity.

Williams needs to win nine more titles to equal Monica Seles, who's in 10th place on the all-time list of career title wins. Martina Navratilova won 167 singles titles, a record that will probably never be broken.

Williams still has the demeanour and appeal of a champion.

She has more pulling power than most players on the circuit and she'll play a big part in selling out sessions in Auckland this week as the public flock to see not only one of the greatest players, but someone who redefined the women's game.

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"Venus is someone you can call a legend," said New Zealand No 1, Marina Erakovic.

"I was watching her on TV as a kid when there was the braids and the whole shebang.

"She is very athletic, has a big serve and is probably one of those girls who introduced how important serving is now in the women's game.

"She's just a top athlete, a top player. I am glad she's come down and I'm sure we'll love seeing her."

Williams keeps busy with her fashion label EleVen. That's going well but she doesn't see the end of her playing career and still feels that she can win an eighth Grand Slam.

"That's what everyone is playing for, that's what I am playing for, that's why I've been through all of this and have never given up," Williams said yesterday, referring to the Sjogren's syndrome she suffers from.

"For me, it's about just playing well. Every match leads to the next match and in my career a lot of losses have been important too because I learned a lot from them and they made me better.

"So yes, I want to win majors and I might have some losses along the way, but I'll learn and it builds character."

Williams looked in good physical shape yesterday in an exhibition match with Erakovic. She was also in good spirits.

"I've had the best off season since I can remember," she said.

"I've had an opportunity to train, so that was really exciting.

"When you walk out there some days you might not be playing your best and you just have to keep fighting and that's what I expect from myself more than anything, just to battle every second that I'm on the court."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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