Venus Williams occupies an odd spot in tennis history. There have been a few sibling acts in tennis and normally one sibling outshines the other to a degree that they are not identified together (think John and Patrick McEnroe
or Todd and Dan Martin). In other instances, the siblings play doubles together and don’t particularly make a dent in the singles scene. The Bryan twins and the Jensen brothers fit into this model. The Maleeva sisters from Bulgaria were indistinguishable by average fans and all roughly achieved similar levels of success on tour.
Venus Williams has been surpassed by Serena Williams after and early period of being treated as a single entity. The Williams sisters have also won a haul of doubles titles including 4 olympic gold medals and 13 grand slam doubles titles. Depending upon the circumstances, Venus has been overshadowed and lumped together with her sister Serena. Serena’s first Serena Slam stretching from Roland Garros 2002-Australian Open 2003 came with the odd distinction of defeating her sister in each of four successive grand slam championship matches. That almost certainly will never happen again.
In women’s tennis a top tier of players with huge numbers of grand slam singles titles exists. Serena Williams’ 21 major titles put her in this tier. Monica Seles 9 major titles and big questions about what might have been place Seles either in that top tier or somewhere between that very top tier and the next level of great champions in women’s tennis.
Where to Place Venus?
Venus Williams is not in this very top tier. Yet, is she often overlooked when people talk about the next grouping? Justine Henin, Hanna Mandlikova, Martina Hingis, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Maria Sharapova, Lindesy Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, and Kim Clijsters all stand out on their own. In the Serena Williams Era, Venus is at worst the 5th best singles player. Arguments can be made that Henin, Sharapova, and Hingis are ahead of Venus in terms of singles accomplishments, but the margins are small enough that Venus’ supporters certainly can make counter-arguments. Venus’ 7 major titles equal Henin’s haul and surpass that of Hingis and Sharapova. Venus may not have won 3 of the 4 majors or claimed a career Grand Slam, but she does have 5 Wimbledon titles. Venus’ stature only grows if one adds doubles titles into the equation. Venus best argument as compared to her generational peers revolves around longevity.
Venus’ greatest accomplishment is her longevity. She reached the US Open championship match in September 1997 losing to Martina Hingis. 1997 was the year Guga emerged and Patrick Rafter won his first of two US Open titles. In July 2016, Venus Williams is ranked in the top 10 and is 4 sets away from claiming a 6th Wimbledon singles title. This is remarkable. It takes on a greater significance given her diagnosis with the autoimmune inflammatory disease Sjögrens Syndrome. Venus was diagnosed with this ailment in 2011. Pete Sampras won 14 majors despite suffering from a form of anemia common among people of Greek heritage. Venus Williams has been the number one player in the world in both singles and doubles. At 36 years of age, Venus could have retired long ago. Instead, she is playing top 10 tennis while playing in the final four of the Wimbledon singles draw and the final eight of the Wimbledon doubles draw. My best guess is that Venus has continued due to the belief that she can still have great moments at Wimbledon and in the Rio Olympics. For two decades, Venus has been a factor in major tennis tournaments. Her sister may be on Mount Rushmore, but that doesn’t mean that Venus doesn’t deserve her own unique place in the tennis sun.
My 7-year-old daughter has been a big backer of Venus Williams for several years. I just asked her why she likes Venus so much, and she replied, “She reminds me of the planet Venus.” Given that Venus worked hard for equal pay for female players at grand slam events, my daughter and sons should admire her for more than a celestial moniker.