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By Erik Gudris | @atntennis | Monday, July 3, 2023


Elina Svitolina edged Venus Williams 6-4, 6-3 ending the 43-year-old American's 24th career Wimbledon appearance.

Photo credit: Rob Newell/CameraSport

Grit and grace.

Those have been the trademarks of all-time great Venus Williams.

More: Wimbledon Preview

The five-time Wimbledon champion showed those qualities again in her anticipated opening round against Ukraine's Elina Svitolina

In this meeting of two wildcards, it was Svitolina who ended up winning the match 6-4, 6-3.

Yet once again Venus Williams proved herself a timeless champion.

When asked after the match about how several players spoke about what an inspiration Williams is to them personally, the former No. 1 responded with “I'm just being me. I live my life the best way I can. I'm a competitor. That's what I do for a living, so I did what I could today.”

Now age 43, Williams entered this year playing in her 24th career Championships, a record for any woman player. In fact, when she won her first Wimbledon title in 2000, the top seeds at that time were Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis.

To add to how much history Williams holds at the event, her exit marks the first time since 1997 that neither her, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, or Rafael Nadal were not in the second round. "It's always a pleasure to play against Venus," Svitolina said after the match. "Played her so many times, I think in almost every Slam. It was a really special moment today to play here."

Williams' grit and grace were on display early in the first set. After a strong start that saw her secure an early break, near calamity struck when Williams, in the third game, slipped up at net going for a volley and fell to the court. Crying out in anguish, everyone, including Svitolina and umpire Marija Cicak, rushed to Williams's assistance.

Williams, who appeared to hyper-extend her already bandaged right knee, saw a trainer soon after but chose not to take a medical time out. Instead, as is her mantra, she played on.

Though Svitolina eventually broke serve and took the lead in the set, Williams kept on fighting. Though her movement was clearly limited at times, Williams kept in touch by firing down several massive serves that harkened back to how she used her potent serve to win seven major titles. Despite Williams' resolve, Svitolina's defense and ability to keep the ball just out of her opponent's reach kept her always a game ahead. At 5-4, Williams had two points to level the set. Svitolina responded with a solid jamming second serve and then won a rally to take it to deuce.

Soon, Svitolina wrapped up the set 6-4.

Svitolina kept her momentum going by breaking to start the second set. Eventually, the 28-year-old Ukranian opened up a 4-1 double break lead with help from a Williams' double fault down break point.

Svitolina soon led by 5-2, but Williams was not done yet. Summoning up her champion's resolve, Williams fired off several sizzling forehands, including one at break point in the next game to pull within 5-3.

Yet, Svitolina, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2019, proved too solid down the stretch and kept Williams from gaining any more traction. She quickly got to the match point and then clinched the victory with a final winner that clipped the baseline in front of Williams, which she didn't handle at first before it was called out.

Williams left Centre Court to a round of heartfelt applause from the appreciative crowd.

With the sun setting in London as the match concluded, it is easy to wonder if this were the last that we'll see Venus Williams on Centre Court.

Yet knowing how many times many have speculated when the all-time great will ever call time on her career has been proved a futile one. Despite today’s loss, and the injury scare, Williams found a way to take the whole match in stride and look ahead.

"Grass is inherently going to be slippery. You're going to fall at some point. It was just bad luck for me. I started the match perfectly. I was literally killing it, then I got killed by the grass,” Williams said with a laugh.

"Yeah, it's not fun right now. I felt like I was in great form coming into this tournament, and great form in the match. It's all very shocking at the moment. This is sports. I'm hitting the ball well. Hopefully I can just figure out what's happening with me and move forward."

As Williams said in an earlier press conference on whether she could play well into her 50s, she said if anyone could attempt it, it may be her. And if that is the case, we can all look forward to more opportunities to witness her grit and grace on the court for many more matches.


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