LeBron? At Wimbledon, don’t ask Venus Williams
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Art Spander in LeBron James, Venus Williams, Wimbledon, articles, tennis

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — LeBron? Of course we’re at Wimbledon, and he’s some 5,000 miles away. But the world of sport is international, and what else was there to ask Venus Williams, a lady of many shots — especially serves — and few words.

Venus on Monday, opening day of this 132nd Wimbledon, defeated Johanna Larsen, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-1, which could be considered a big deal since Williams was down a set and had been eliminated in the first round of the last two Slams, the Australian and French.

Or could be considered nothing special because this grass court tennis at the All England Club is where Venus won women’s singles five times and was a finalist four other times.

Oh yes, younger sister Serena Williams, her daughter of eight months, Olympia, back at the room, also won on this day, beating Arantxa Rus, 7-5, 6-3, when, gasp, the temperature in Greater London climbed to 86 degrees.

Yet Serena, with her 23 Grand Slam titles and younger sibling boldness, will say about anything. Venus, however, gives brief answers, forcing the media to probe for any item that could be interesting, it not particularly newsworthy.

So right after Venus was questioned about the weather — “I live in Florida,“ she reminded — she was asked her thoughts about LeBron James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, which must have bored the scribes from Britain, virtually the only country on this side of the Atlantic not a bit interested in basketball.

“I’m sure he’s happy, I guess,” was Venus’ one-size-fits-all sort of contradictory response about LeBron. “I don’t know. I actually don’t have any thoughts.”

So careful, so cautious, so unflagging. Venus is the grand dame of tennis. She’s 38. Broke in as a pro in 1994 at what is now Oracle Arena but then was the Oakland Coliseum Arena. Won her first Wimbledon in 2000.

Throw her a trick question and she whacks it away like an opponent’s poor lob, as when a journalist said, “I see something on a ring finger. Something new that we don’t know?”

“No, no,” said Venus. “I’ve been wearing this all year. You’ve got to be a little faster.”

At least nobody asked when she might retire. Tennis is her life. You think after overcoming that autoimmune malady, first diagnosed in 2011, she’s going pack it in now? To do what? Travel the world? That’s all tennis players do.

Larsson, of Sweden, is 58th in the WTA rankings, while Venus is ninth. “I honestly hadn’t played her before,” said Venus, who honestly had played her before, in 2013 in the Fed Cup. But you get old, the memory declines.

“She played well,” Williams said of Larsson, who’s a mere 29. “There were moments I could have played better and was just playing better in those moments in the last two sets.”

If Venus Williams needs tennis, then tennis, American tennis, needs Venus Williams. Sloan Stephens did win last year’s U.S. Open, making us believe she would be the next star and attraction. But Monday, Stephens, who holds the No. 4 ranking, was upset by Donna Vekic of Croatia. So much for the next generation.

We’ll go with the reliable, Venus, and Serena, who’s 36. Familiarity sells in individual sports, tennis and golf. Maybe it doesn’t matter who’s in centerfield for the A’s or Giants, or Yankees or Red Sox. But it matters who's on Centre Court at Wimbledon.

And so the tennis people, those in the United States, must be pleased when Venus makes one of those brief comments that, while telling us very little, in a way tells us a lot.

“I just hang in there,” Venus said when asked how she remains consistent tournament after tournament, although until Monday her consistency in this year’s majors was to lose quickly.

“I’m not sure why any other people go up or down. Every day is not your best match, but you try to win that match anyway.”

The men’s tour, the ATP, added a new event for January, a variation of team tennis.

“I don’t read any news,” said Venus, quickly cutting off any chance of a debate. “I don’t know what’s happening on the (men’s) tour.”

At least she knew what was happening to LeBron James, apparently. Next question.

Article originally appeared on Art Spander (http://artspander.com/).
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