A five-time queen returns to her court
Venus Williams will play on the crisply clipped lawns at the All England Club for her 17th Wimbledon tournament. This has been her second home -- a place where her game and graceful personality found a perfect match, where her reasoned arguments for equal pay with men brought forth change, where she always seemed to have a shot at another title.
Much of that is still true. Except the last one.
Even Wimbledon is realistic about Williams' chances here. She is seeded 30th, but the five-time winner has not been deferentially moved up in seeding as Wimbledon organizers have done in the past.
In fact, they haven't moved Williams up since 2011, when she was ranked 30th but was bumped to the 24th seed. Turns out, that was the last year Wimbledon elevated any woman to a seed higher than her ranking, although defending men's champion Andy Murray was bumped up two spots this year.
Williams, 34, last reached the final in 2009, when she lost to her younger sister. They may not have known it then, but that loss was the changing of the guard -- the year before she had bested Serena for her fifth Wimbledon title.
Ever since being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome in 2011, Williams hasn't been quite the same. The illness can cause bouts of fatigue, with little warning. She may feel good for three matches, and then struggle in the fourth. A Grand Slam is a two-week event where endurance plays a role, and Williams has reached the third round just once in her past eight majors.
Williams didn't play Wimbledon last year due to a back injury, and in 2012 she was unseeded and lost in the first round.
It's time to appreciate a player who has given so much of herself to the game and who isn't ready to say goodbye.
What Williams does have is doubles. She and Serena have won the doubles tournament five times, most recently in 2012. Venus withdrew this year from the Australian Open doubles, citing a lower leg injury, but she's said she has had a lot more fun playing with her sister as her career has progressed.
They won gold in Sydney in 2000 and then again in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012, where the tennis venue was none other than the All England Club.
"Boy, was that a battle," Venus said after winning gold. "That was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I really feel proud of what happened here at the Olympics."
She has grown up on this court from her first main draw match against Magdalena Grzybowska in 1997, to reaching the quarterfinal the next year when she lost to eventual champion Jana Novotna. In 1999, she lost to Steffi Graf in a quarter before winning her first title in 2000 by defeating defending champion Lindsay Davenport.
Novotna and Graf are in the International Tennis Hall of Fame; Davenport will be enshrined in July. It's a place where Williams most likely will be someday.
And now some young upstart and future champion may be playing her first tournament at Wimbledon and find Williams on the other side of the net.
Williams could make a run. After all, she won a WTA tournament in Dubai earlier this year. But winning is not the only reason she plays. After a first-round loss at the Australian this year, she said it was the game that kept her interested.
"I love tennis," Williams said. "It's fun. I think pretty much anyone who plays tennis will say that they enjoy the game, so I think that is definitely motivation for me, something that I enjoy."
Sometimes, winning isn't everything.
When she does decide to retire, Williams might do it here. Wimbledon embraced her as she grew into a champion, where her reserved demeanor could be fully appreciated. It would be a fitting spot for her final curtsy -- but not a moment before she's ready.