When your career arc spans as far back as that of Venus Williams, who was first introduced to us at the Oakland Coliseum back in '94 -- a beaded/cornrowed/ever-grinning 14 year old making her professional tennis debut -- you can't help but step back and gain some perspective.
"I didn't see anything. I just hit hard," mused Williams, reflecting on those early days. "In some ways it's almost better because you're free. You just play. I was without boundaries. But now you think and you're trying to structure a point, structure a game, play the percentages but still be aggressive, and it's a whole other mentality. So it's nice to have that moment, but of course there's more success when you actually know what you're doing.”
Now 36 and seven Grand Slams into a surefire Hall of Fame career, in so many ways a world away from that Bank of the West Classic debut, the week-to-week losses no longer feel like the end of the world. It’s a long season. She knows there’ll be another day, another shot at victory.
“I don't allow it to ruin my life or the life of those around me any longer,” said Williams, who’s into the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open thanks to a businesslike 6-4, 6-2 win over Czech Lucie Safarova. “You have to grow up and try to get some perspective. It's not easy. It takes a while. It takes a long time, like, decades. Literally.”
Post Sjogren's syndrome diagnosis, Williams appears to be relishing her time on the court unlike at any other point in her career. Perhaps it’s because all she’s been through. Perhaps she now understands just how fragile life can be.
“I feel like I'm the most joyful now, honestly,” she said. “I've clearly loved the game. You have to, to play this long, to deal with the pressure and to put in the amount of work that it takes. But I definitely feel like I'm peaking in terms of the love level. I'm enjoying the competition. I like this.”
It might not have been love at first sight for the 13th-ranked Williams when she first started hitting tennis balls on a cracked Southern California court with her father and kid sister. But she’s sure smitten now.