The difficulty for Venus Williams is that she no longer plays like one. The wonderful imperiousness of Williams, the defiant attitude to questions remain undiminished. Her stroll from Court 1 was suitably regal for the American who has been crowned ladies champion five times at Wimbledon.
This walk from court No.1, an immaculately refurbished graveyard for the stars, was routine in all but one aspect. Williams, moving with grace and with her head erect, bestowed a wave to her fans that was the epitome of noblesse oblige but it could not obscure the figures on the scoreboard.
Williams, a winner of seven grand slams, a victor of 211 grand-slam ties, had just been beaten comprehensively by Elena Vesnina, a 25-year-old Russian who is ranked No.79 in the world.
The fall of the one-time queen of Wimbledon was dramatic but not unexpected. She has been suffering from Sjogren's syndrome, a disorder of the immune system, and withdrew from the US Open in 2011. The defeat by Vesnina took just more than a hour and the margin of 6-1, 6-3 was a fair summation of Vesnina's excellence and the shrinking of the power and glory of Williams.
The American could occasionally produce the 100mph serve and intermittently thrash a forehand down the line. However, her answers to Vesnina's questions were muddled, inconsistent and unconvincing.
Those seduced by any notions of sympathy for Williams should not express these sentiments in the same postcode as the personality who came out of Compton to become one of the greatest women players of all time.
Sjogren's syndrome is incurable and Williams will have to manage rather than eradicate the condition. Her ability to manage her life, however, remains unimpaired.
Yesterday afternoon, she conducted the first champion's press conference by a first-round loser. Williams knew she was walking into a room of sporting undertakers who were measuring her up for consignment to history.
She treated the first few questions like the gentle lobs they were. Any gentle guiding of her towards any intimations that the defeat signalled the end of an era rather than the end of a championship was obstructed. "I've lost before, so I know how to deal with it. That's basically how I feel right now. Simple as that," she said.
Except, of course, that it is very complicated. Williams has been wedded to tennis since her father, Richard, took her to a run-down public court when she was but a child. Her athleticism and her talent have taken her from the ghetto to the penthouse but all would be nothing without her mentality.
The missile that is the Venus Williams serve spluttered and her energy was low yesterday. Yet her spirit is undimmed off court and and on it. She congratulated Vesnina at the net, waved to her fans and told the undertakers in the press room that there was life on planet Venus.
"I don't really feel like talking about my health now," she said when asked about how she felt. "You know, life is challenging, but I'm always up for a challenge." Asked about whether she would be back at Wimbledon, she mischievously said: "Yeah, at the Olympics, you'll see me here." Williams has worked hard to reach the ranking of 58 so she can have the chance to reprise her gold-medal winning exploits of 2000 and 2008.
Pressed on whether she would be back at Wimbledon next year, she said. "I'm planning on it."
Her champion's mindset was never more apparent in an exchange so icy that one was reminded of Joe Pesci confronting Ray Liotta in Goodfellas.
Questioner: What is going to drive you after that? You're 32, struggling, have a lot of other interests.
Williams: Am I struggling?
Questioner: A little bit. No?
Williams: Am I? I don't know. Tell me what the struggle is.
Questioner: To win matches?
Williams: You think? I just want you to be clear. If you say I'm struggling, tell me how I should do better, you know.
Questioner: I'm just asking what's going to drive you to stay with it after the Olympics.
Williams: I feel like I am a great player. I am a great player. Unfortunately, I have had 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's no way I'm just going to sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six freakin' tournaments back. You know, that's just not me."
It was Williams' warning, in an echo of Pesci, that she is not just here to amuse us. "But I'm tough, let me tell you, tough as nails," she added as if there could be any doubt about her character.
Williams was showing that she is still force, still a threat. Yesterday, that menace was restricted to an exchange in a press conference. Once it lived, breathed and bounded on the grass of Wimbledon.
As Maria Sharapova cruised to victory against Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-3 and Kim Clijsters dismissed Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 6-4, an even bigger name in the history of women's tennis was forced to bow to the inadequacy of her form and fitness.
Williams will remain to play doubles with her sister, Serena. She will exert every ounce of effort to win another title. She is a champion. She can do nothing else.
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