At 17, Venus Williams made a ‘star-is-born’ debut at the 1997 U.S. Open, powering her way to the final, defeating Irene Spirlea 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 in the semifinals. A USA Today headline signaled Williams’ status as a potential superstar with a ‘VENUS RISING’ headline. Top seed Martina Hingis ended Williams’ fun-run, 6-0, 6-4 in the final. That loss proved to be just a speed bump. Venus continued her drive to the top, capturing the 2000-2001 U.S. Open titles to become in 2002, the first African American woman ranked No. 1 in the world since Althea Gibson, the 1957-58 U.S. Open champion. She has won $41,819,106 in prize money during her career, the second highest in the history of the WTA Tour. Only her sister, Serena ($92,742,122) has won more.
At 40, Williams continued her slide in the opposite direction Tuesday, losing to Karolina Muchova (CZE) 6-3, 7-5 in the first round. She has won only one of five matches played this year. “I ran out of time,” Williams said. Physical weakness and lack of energy has affected Williams’ competitiveness for the last 15 years. Two years after rising to No. 1, she realized something was amiss with her body. It took seven years for her to receive the Sjogren’s Syndrome diagnosis, an autoimmune disease that affects four million people. Common symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth.
People with Sjogren’s Syndrome are too often “misdiagnosed or too sick to function,” she told Prevention.com last year. “I literally had professional tennis taken away from me before I got the right diagnosis. So, you can imagine, it has definitely affected my game.”
Owner of two companies, V Starr Interiors and athletic apparel line EleVen, the business world is hers to join full-time whenever she’s ready, but for now that transition isn’t a priority. At No. 67, Williams is the only 40-year-old woman ranked in the top 100 and that doesn’t bother the five-time Wimbledon champion at all. “I love this game,’” she said. “I’m good at what I do. It’s easy to stay motivated and excited about doing something so amazing. Not many people get to this. Really fortunate and blessed to be someone who has gotten a chance to do it.”
The French Open is the next stop on the pro tour. It begins Sept. 27 – in Paris. “Looking forward to having a little rest before the clay courts,” Williams said.