The dilemma of Venus Williams

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Tennis players are like well-oiled machines.. slowed down by age and wear-n-tear; and if they come off the production line for some time, it takes a while before they get back to full speed. No one knows that better than former world no. 1 Venus Williams.

The 33 year old American has been playing stop-and-start tennis ever since her diagnosis of Sjorgen’s Syndrome in 2011. But it’s hardly due to lack of motivation or determination. Many others in her place might have quit long ago. But not Venus.

The American has fought bravely – changing her diet and training schedule to adapt to her health issues. And she continues to put herself out there, challenging her body and her spirit, not worried that the frequent losses may tarnish her legacy.

Williams, currently ranked no. 35 in the world, had to pull out of Wimbledon and the World Team Tennis league in recent weeks due to a back injury but hopes to be back in time for the US Open.  In a recent interview, she commented, “I’m feeling better. I’ve been working hard and rehabbing. I just have to take my time until I feel 100 percent. It’s just difficult to play tennis when you have an injury. It’s hard to be confident when you’re not prepared.”

Venus and sister Serena have talked about playing till the next Olympics in Brazil in 2016. By then, Venus would be 36 years old and Serena 35. The two did combine to win the Olympic doubles gold medal in London last year as well as the Wimbledon doubles title, one of 13 Grand Slam doubles titles the sisters have combined to win. Another doubles gold in Rio seems realistically within their reach even in their mid-30s. Which makes one wonder. Perhaps, it may be time for Venus to give up her singles aspirations and focus only on doubles.

Given her current health status, it seems unlikely that will be able to win seven matches in a row to win a singles Grand Slam. Even at the regular WTA tour stops, winning a couple of tough matches seems to take a toll on her body. Many top players in the past have extended their careers by several years by focussing only on doubles. And if gold in Rio is the ultimate objective, focusing on doubles may not be such a bad idea.

But on the flip side, Venus’ regular doubles partner, Serena, still has her sights set breaking some records in the singles game. Serena is ranked no. 1 in the world and has been playing some of the best tennis of her career over the past 15 months. She now has 16 grand slam singles titles, just two shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert’s 18. (The only players ahead of them are Margaret Court with 24 and Steffi Graf with 22). And being 31 years old, Serena needs to be careful about her own scheduling and body if she hopes to survive until Rio.

Throughout their careers, the sisters have played doubles almost exclusively with each other. The last time Venus played doubles with anyone else in a tour event was in Doha five years ago when she partnered with Caroline Wozniacki. Playing with other partners during the regular WTA circuit may not be such an appealing idea for Venus, especially if she wants to win the slams and the Olympics with Serena. Which really limits her options. But then again, Venus has never been one to let an adverse situation get the better of her. She has fought bravely through adversity before and found her way. Let’s hope she can do the same this time.

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