She'll be 30 years old come June, and she hasn't won a Grand Slam title since she bagged Wimbledon in 2008. She hasn't won a major other than Wimbledon since 2001. But Venus Williams is a great player, and great players usually have a way of making one last run to glory before they begin the irreversible fade.
And Williams has been running. Boy, has she.
If Williams' 7-5 in-the-third loss to Na Li in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open was anything to get depressed about, she followed up by winning the titles in Dubai (taking out Victoria Azarenka in straight sets in the final) and Acapulco. And although the field in Acapulco wasn't littered with top-10 players, Williams showed her ability -- and perhaps more important, her willingness -- to grind. She prevailed in three sets in each of her past three matches when she could have taken a relatively meaningless L and put in a little beach time before hurrying north to snowy Manhattan.
Instead, Williams arrived in New York for the Billie Jean King Cup exhibition with a glint in her eye and spring in her legs. There, she hammered Svetlana Kuznetsova in a one-set semifinal and then took out Kim Clijsters 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 to add another half-million bucks to her bank account.
Sure, no-ad scoring was in effect, so you can't compare this past win to a tour match. But the funny thing about no-ad (as well as exhibitions in general) is that it encourages players to swing from the heels and throw caution to the wind.
Williams and Clijsters both fulfilled the first commandment of exhibition tennis Monday night by giving a full effort. They tried hard and dispelled any notion that they were just going through the motions to entertain a tennis-hungry crowd. There was none of that wink-wink, "Let's each win a set, then anything goes in the third" stuff that you sometimes get in exos.
As Clijsters graciously acknowledged in a news conference afterward, "Venus is focused and disciplined. Some other players might not even have made it here [after the wearing week in Acapulco]. But Williams -- whether it's singles, doubles or exhibitions -- always wants to bring out the best in herself. We can really admire that."
We also can admire Williams' serve or, as I like to call it, her "swerve." Unlike her sister, Serena, Venus really likes to go with that heavy slice serve, and the shot kept Clijsters back on her heels for numerous service games. Venus' win was a cocktail of solid hold-serve tennis, dangerous shot-making (courtesy of her range and mobility) and the quick rewards of no-ad scoring.
"The thing with no-ad scoring is that everybody is going for their shots but at the same time trying not to make mistakes," Williams said. "That can be pretty intense."
There's no finer or more important word in tennis than "intense," and it was satisfying to see Williams show sand at the Garden on Monday night. It might also be a preview of the year to come. Great players almost always make a last run.