W Debate: Time for Venus to retire?
Question: Venus Williams has suffered through a lot of illness and injury recently. After her recent first-round loss in the Rogers Cup, there are questions about her future. Is it time for her to retire?
Jane McManus: Venus Williams should retire whenever she darn well wants to.
First of all, she is responsible for the fact that women now receive the same prize money that men do at all four majors. After accomplishing that, she can set up a chaise lounge in the doubles alley and sip a Shirley Temple for the entire second set, and I won't complain.
She is 33, so she isn't quite dead yet, and has played through Sjogren's syndrome for the past two years. She gets fatigued, and some days are better than others, but she deserves to be able to take the game at her own pace -- which is one of the few strategies that seems to lengthen careers in her sport.
Tennis is not a team sport, so it isn't as though her slump impacts a team or their playoff hopes. Her No. 36 ranking is high enough to win a berth in tournaments and majors, and when it isn't, she can have that conversation with her family and coaches.
But Williams has said, after all she's been through, she enjoys playing more than ever. And, after all she's contributed, she's earned the right to stay a spell.
Melissa Isaacson:The conventional argument goes something like this:
Venus hasn't been herself in a long time, has won just one singles title (Luxembourg in October 2012) in more than two years, can't keep up anymore with little sis Serena and risks hurting her enduring reputation by hanging around past her prime.
The last one is my personal favorite since it suggests that anything she does will take away her previous accomplishments and that this is anyone's call but her own.
In fact, let's look at how Venus herself views retirement as she put it after losing in the first round of the French Open this past May.
"What I've gone through, it's not easy," she said in reference to her battle with Sjogren's syndrome, which sidelined her for seven months spanning 2011 and '12. "But I'm strong, and I'm a fighter. I don't think I'm playing for me now. I think I'm playing for a lot of people who haven't felt well. ... I wouldn't just give up because it was difficult. I'm going to continue trying. ... "
Maybe that turns into doubles only, which she has indicated she will limit herself to in Grand Slams. But if she has a higher purpose, who are we to argue?
JM: That's a great point Missy, and here is another: The WTA needs Venus Williams.
Does tennis really have so many icons that it can casually discard a player who has brought so much to the sport?
No, familiarity and marketability are valuable things, and Venus has both. What's more, there is an accessibility to her that wasn't always there. Her struggles and her candor have made her more endearing. Early in her career she had a lot of uphill battles to fight, simply because she was different, a black player from a socio-economic background who didn't gibe with her country-club sport.
But now, crowds root for Venus heartily. Like many veterans, she has stuck around long enough that people appreciate her. She shouldn't have to give that up and pressuring her to give it up isn't in the best interest of anyone.
MI: Absolutely agree, Jane. And I'd still pay to watch a player that will go down as one of the most graceful, yet powerful champions in history.
Also, Venus has never cared what detractors have to say, and having experienced more ups and downs than most, no one has more carefully considered her career path than she has.
As you first pointed out, there is something to be said about going out on your own terms, and like all great champions, Venus has earned that right. Andy Roddick did it before most may have expected, but again, it was his call.
Is it sad to consider that the skills of a great athlete are being sapped by something so completely out of her control? Absolutely. Is it inspiring to watch her fight through it? Many would say yes.
Women's tennis needs Venus Williams. Her fans need her. And obviously, she still needs both. If the curtain call takes a year or if it takes two, good for her to take it.