Venus eclipsed but still unbowed

 

TENNIS:EARLIER THIS month one of the rarest of cosmic spectacles took place when Venus passed across the face of the sun. It won’t occur again for another 105 years. In the sunshine at Wimbledon yesterday there was another eclipse, this time involving five-time champion Venus Williams as she was ushered out of the tournament by Elena Vesnina 6-1, 6-3.

The juxtaposition of the planets was visible from earth for seven hours; this women’s singles was an altogether shorter affair at an hour and a quarter. The only previous occasion that the 32-year-old Williams lost in the first round at the All England club was when making her debut in the tournament in 1997.

The defeat is not altogether a surprise. The American is suffering from Sjogren’s syndrome, an incurable auto-immune disease which causes chronic fatigue along with joint and muscle pain. It was diagnosed midway through last year and she didn’t play a competitive match after withdrawing from the second round of the 2011 US Open until March of this year.

In a bid to qualify for the London Olympics next month she returned to the WTA circuit in Miami, playing five tournaments, the last of which was a second-round defeat in the French Open. She achieved her goal though of earning enough points to make London 2012 without broaching the business end of those events.

She opened with a brace of double faults, finished with a limp forehand return and in between could not tame a misfiring game against an opponent in Vesnina who had lost in the opening round of nine of her last 10 Grand Slam tournaments.

Trailing 5-0, she briefly illustrated her fighting qualities, to avoid a first set “bagel”, winning four points in succession to break Vesnina’s serve but promptly offered up her own in the next game to concede the set.

She fared a little better initially in the second set but was broken in the sixth game and from that point the descent to defeat was sharply downhill.

Gracious in defeat, she declined to elaborate on her health but did concede that she was proud of the manner in which she fought to raise her rankings sufficiently to qualify for the Olympics. “That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my life. That’s all I’ve fought for this whole year. It will just be an honour to be there and try to capitalise on that moment.”

She bristled visibly when the word “struggling” was introduced and also at a line of questioning that suggested her illness has irrevocably compromised her ability to win again.

She railed: “I feel like I am a great player. I am a great player. Unfortunately I have to deal with circumstances that people don’t normally have to deal with in this sport.

“But I can’t be discouraged by that so I’m up for challenges. I have great tennis in me. I just need the opportunity. There is no way I am going to sit down and give up because I have had a hard time (in) the first five or six freakin’ tournaments; that’s just not me.

“I have been through a lot for years without knowing what I was going through. I just try and stay positive and focused on the tennis; not let anything get to me like, you know, crazy questions.”

She went on to speak about the inspiration provided by her sister Serena, who has “fought back (from) near death experiences; several”. Venus will be hoping that their experiences will be a little less fraught when the sisters combine in the doubles and that the timeframe to the next eclipse is a lengthily one.

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