There’s much ado about Venus Williams’s first round loss at Wimbledon.
The stats flowed. The tennis great had not lost in the first round at Wimbledon since 1997, the first time she appeared at the famous British tournament. Williams has won five Wimbledon singles titles. Williams is now ranked 58th in the world. She lost to Russia’s Elena Vesnina, who is ranked 79th. Once upon a time, not too long ago, Williams was number one.
Commentators were quick to write Williams’ sports obituary. Some thought she would never play a Wimbledon tournament again.
ESPN tennis commentator Pam Shriver said Williams looked horrible and “listless” when she hit the court. Last year, doctors diagnosed Williams with an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren’s syndrome.
“None of us are comfortable watching one of the great champions age,” Shriver said.
Williams says she won’t quit tennis.
“I don’t have time to feel negative,” she said after her 6-1, 6-3 loss. “It doesn’t feel good. I am as tough as nails. I don’t have time to be sorry for myself.”
She’ll represent the United States in next month’s Olympic Games in London. She already has three gold medals – more than any other female tennis player. Her career has been stellar in a competitive game where most professional players never even reach the top 20.
Athletes like Williams are a lot like politicians. They are driven by hard work, ego and an eternal passion for winning. What if politicians gave up after a defeat?
Bill Clinton would have never become president if he had opted for a life as a university professor after losing his first campaign for Congress in 1974. Richard Nixon had already achieved much when he ran for president in 1960. John F. Kennedy won, but Nixon came back in 1968 to win.
Mitt Romney didn’t become the Republican nominee in 2008. So he ran again and look at where he is now.
Venus Williams is only 32. She’s not even old enough to run for president. Yet, in her 15-year career, she has more than 40 titles and seven Grand Slam titles. She has also become a role model for young athletes especially in the African-American community. She, and her sister, tennis star Serena Williams, became part owners of the Miami Dolphins in 2009. The duo became the first African-American women to have ownership in an NFL franchise.
In 2005, she stood up for women tennis players when she openly addressed the pay inequality for men and women at the French Open and Wimbledon. The two tournaments refused to pay equally through all rounds. Williams wrote an essay in The Times, a London newspaper, condemning this practice. Prime Minister Tony Blair and members of Parliament stood behind Williams.
In 2007, Wimbledon caved and awarded equal prize money. The French Open followed one day later. That same year, Williams was the first woman to benefit from the equal pay when she won the Wimbledon title.
Not too shabby a career thus far, Venus.
Like in politics, there always has to be a winner and a loser. On Monday, Williams lost a match. The press seized on it and often failed to list her long list of accomplishments. Like Nixon once said after a loss, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more…”
I’d wager we’ll have Venus Williams to kick around for a long time.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.