Photo : People.com
After bringing home tonnes and tonnes of trophies and titles, Venus and Serena Williams were like rookies on the red carpet at the Oscars in Hollywood.
But what rookies!
And they learn fast.
As the executive producers of the film King Richard on how the sisters became tennis superstars, Venus and Serena tasted victory yet again when Will Smith, who portrays their father Richard Williams, won in the best actor category. The biographical sports drama they authorized garnered a total of four Academy Award nominations.
And, like opening a match with an ace, Venus and Serena got the ceremony off to a fantastic start when they introduced their friend and fellow superstar Beyoncé, who led a spectacular rendition of “Be Alive” from King Richard, which was nominated for best original song.
The tennis-themed performance was filmed on the Compton court where it all began for the tennis legends.
The famous sisters, who play less competitive tennis than they used, are often photographed at events, like the premier of King Richard last November and the Critics Choice Awards a few weeks ago.
Venus is currently ranked No.466 and last competed in August 2021. Serena, No.260, has been away since June 2021. Considering how much she wanted to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, Serena seems to be moving further and further away from her goal.
Still, she’d certainly be given a wildcard into any tournament, so you never know. But it seems to me that retirement is looming.
For both of them.
That said, they fully deserve to move into the second part of their lives and attend the red carpet galas to celebrate the projects in which they invest their time and money.
Renell Medrano / Harper’s Bazaar
In the meantime, in case you missed it, Harper’s Bazaar published a long piece on Venus and Serena in its March 2022 issue. For the fashion shoot, they traded in their Nike and Wilson for Gucci, Cartier and Valentino.
Ashleigh Barty’s next chapter
Like you, I’m still shaken by Ashleigh Barty’s bombshell retirement news over a week later.
Ash’s tennis ashes hadn’t even been scattered by the Australian Outback winds that a new queen had already ascended to the WTA throne. Indeed, Iga Swiatek of Poland was the logical replacement given the excellence and regularity she’s demonstrated at such a young age. She’s 23-3 so far this season.
Far be it from me to relay all the details and tributes that have poured in, but the past week did give me an opportunity to get a few thoughts together.
Besides the tremendous surprise and the reasons cited by Ashleigh Barty herself, who was the World No.1 for the past 121 weeks, the major takeaway is that she just couldn’t find the motivation to play after achieving her two greatest dreams: 1. to win Wimbledon (2021) and 2. to win the AO (2022).
In the tsunami of praise that swept social media, some discordant voices felt compelled to mention how young people today lack perseverance and ambition.
Was there really a need to comment? I don’t think so.
While I respect other people’s (probably laypersons’) opinions, let’s focus on those who had good things to say about the great tennis ambassador who’s proven herself to be an exceptional human off the courts and a versatile athlete in competition.
And by competition, I’m also referring to the cricket pitches on which she shined during her two-year break from tennis after winning the junior Wimbledon title at the age of 15.
While the decision means she’ll be leaving millions in prizemoney and sponsorship deals on the table, it’s the ultimate proof that Ashleigh stayed true to herself.
She’s not the only player who’s hung up her racquets early.
Like Barty, Justine Henin was No.1 when she brutally announced her retirement at the age of 25 in 2008. With her trademark one-handed backhand, the Belgian champion had earned seven majors and, like Barty, there was every reason to believe she’d win more.
Can’t-Miss-Swiss Martina Hingis was even younger—just 22 years old—when she left the game with five Slams in 2003. With increasingly competitive players joining the WTA, Martina said she couldn’t find the motivation to stay on top.
There’s also Kim Clijsters, who retired more than once. The first time, in May 2007, she was only 23. She had one Slam and two WTA Finals in her pocket. She cited injuries and the need for a more stimulating personal life as the main reasons for her departure.
As for Marion Bartoli, she got up and left the game a month after securing her first major (Wimbledon 2013) at the age of 30.
On the men’s side, there’s Bjorn Borg. At the age of 25, with 11 Grand Slams in his trophy case, he dodged the press conference after his loss to John McEnroe in the 1981 US Open final.
Besides one tournament in 1982, he disappeared for good when he announced his retirement in January 1983.
After leaving the game, players like Henin, Hingis, Borg and Clijsters felt some sense of loss in their lives—and probably also in their bank accounts—and eventually chose to come back. But Borg, for instance, couldn’t win a single match between 1991 and 1993.
Others were successful the second time around: in 2010, Henin fought in a Grand Slam final and won two titles. Martina Hingis made not one but two comebacks. She was particularly brilliant in mixed doubles and put a definite end to her tennis career with a combined total of 25 major titles.
Of all the young retirees, Kim Clijsters stands out. After 28 months away, she started competing again in August 2009. She played in Toronto and Cincinnati and then made her way to NYC, where she won seven straight matches to raise her second Grand Slam singles trophy.
She then secured two more before retiring in 2012. Her flash comebacks in 2020 and 2021 ended in losses.
But let’s get back to Ashleigh Barty.
Will she take up cricket again?
On Twitter, someone asked if she had her sights set on another major, on the golf course. There’s no doubt she could win one.
Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl retired at 34 and became an excellent golfer. One year, he played 250 rounds.
Lendl scored 64 in competition and attempted to qualify for the 2008 US Open.
One thing is certain: we’ll be hearing from the very popular Ashleigh Barty in the foreseeable future. Until then, a lot of fans will keep speculating about her comeback.
Showdown in Marbella
Most people follow Challenger events to keep up with their local favourites or promising up-and-comers. Or just out of curiosity to see former top players who are still in it to win it.
At this week’s AnyTech365 Andalucía Open in Marbella, Spain, there are two big names in the mix: Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka. The past members of the ATP Top 3 are taking part in a Challenger for the very first time.
They both chose the clay court event to start their comebacks after being away from the game due to injuries for the past 9 and 12 months, respectively.
Wawrinka, currently No. 232, ended his season about a year ago, on March 9, 2021, following three straight losses to Marton Fucsovics, Karen Khachanov and Lloyd Harris.
As for Thiem, No.50, he last played on June 21, 2021, dropping four matches to Lorenzo Sonego, Cameron Norrie, Pablo Andujar and Adrian Mannarino.
In Marbella, the two Grand Slam champions are in the same half of the draw and could go head-to-head in the semis.
If they make it that far.
Training and practice are one thing but tournaments are another. Since they haven’t competed in a while, they’ll be focused on getting their heads back in the game rather than winning the title.
There’ll be obstacles along the way, namely No.67 Pablo Andujar, No.93 Marco Cecchinato, No.94 Carlos Taberner, No.123 Fernando Verdasco and No.129 Philipp Kohlschreiber, who aren’t exactly newbies.
Shot of the year (2)
Did J.J. Wolf hit the shot of the year in his second-round loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Miami on March 26?
Players who are able to switch their racquet over from a righty two-handed backhand to a lefty forehand are few and far between. And players who are able to make the change AND hit a huge winner down the line are even rarer.
See Wolf’s exceptional shot from every angle here.
But tennis had never seen such a searing conclusion to such a hard-fought point.
A few blogs back, I said the point of the year belonged to Tommy Paul, but it drops to second place.
Separated at birth?
Does Andy Murray have a twin?
No, of course not. He and Jamie don’t really look alike and were born on different days.
The man on the right is actor Andrew Garfield. When I saw his photo among this year’s Oscar nominees for his role in Tick, Tick…Boom! I was struck by the resemblance.
But that’s just me.
Some may see similarities between Garfield and Roger Federer.
Either way, if you know someone (famous or not) who could be mistaken for a member of the WTA or ATP, write to me. I’ll share the photos here.
Follow all our Canadians in action here.