LONDON -- By the end of the women's final, as the second set screamed by in a 26-minute rush of errors, Venus Williams walked as if in a daze. The shots she had struck so firmly during an unforgettable fortnight had gone missing. Some strayed long. Some nestled into the middle of the net. Others scuttled quietly to the sides of the court, landing wide.
But don't cry for Venus. Do not feel too terribly bad. After the match, in her typically taciturn way, she vowed to march on. "I've been in a position this year to contend for big titles," said Williams, who at 37, after going eight years without making it to the Wimbledon final, has now been runner-up at the Australian Open and here in London. "It's just about getting over the line. I believe I can."
Williams versus Garbine Muguruza was not the match anyone expected. Both women came to it playing superbly. This seemed destined to be an afternoon full of screaming winners, a showcase for power tennis on the sport's greatest stage. It felt as if an icon was about to etch what could be a last gilded image into our collective memory banks.
Instead this was a forgettable battle of attrition. As it wore on, as Muguruza gathered her nerves, dialing in the forehands she'd been consistently hitting long, Williams simply crumbled.
"Errors, you can't make them," she said, dolefully pointing to the 10 unforced mistakes she made in the second set, the 25 misfires for the match. "I went for some big shots, and they didn't land."
During the last game, the look on Venus' face was one of a woman mortified. She stared straight forward. At one point, it looked as if she might cry. This loss cut deeply. It was much more than the embarrassment of a 6-0, second-set shellacking. This was a very winnable bid for a sixth Wimbledon -- her first title here since 2008. At her age, saddled with Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can sap her strength, would it be her last great chance?
When it was over, Williams gave every indication that the match will not dim her plans to continue playing topflight tennis. She moves now to a ranking of ninth in the world, up from 17 at the end of last year. It is lonely for her on tour without her little sister, and she's planning to still be there when Serena comes back next year from having her first child. On Centre Court, after watching Muguruza lift the winner's platter, Venus said she tries her best to mimic the winning ways of a sibling with 23 major titles. "I think there will still be other opportunities," she said.
About an hour later, in a hushed press room, she sat at a podium and grimly addressed an international collection of reporters. As she does so often, she offered the trimmest of answers to the softest and most straightforward of questions.
"You've never been one to make excuses," a reporter began. "I remember here you said, 'If you're hurt, you don't play, and if you play, you're not hurt.' Everybody in the media was wondering whether your Sjogren's came into effect at the end, or if just the matches day after day and your age caught up with you?"
Venus paused for a moment and then offered a reply that blew past the question entirely. She refused to address fatigue, illness, injury or any of the other potential reasons why she looked out of sorts.
"She played really well," she said, a flatness to her voice. "I mean she played top tennis, so I have to give her credit for just playing a better match.
"I've had a great two weeks. I'm looking forward to the rest of the summer."
Williams has long been one of the WTA's leaders, rightly praised for leading the fight for equal pay. But she is also a closed book. Off court, her most revealing moment at this tournament came when she briefly broke down when asked about the recent Florida pile-up that led to the death of an elderly man. Other than that, she gave not an inch.
Once Wimbledon 2017 was over, as thoughtful as she is known to be in private, she could have offered sincere introspection, as many other top players have. She could have mused at length on the match -- or her historic 20 years playing Wimbledon. Maybe one day; not now. Now, the vibe she keeps giving, win or lose, is that nobody will get inside. She will keep pursuing her goals in tennis, same as ever. And now, that means pursuing more big wins, more majors, no matter what happened Saturday on Centre Court.
Perhaps Muguruza put it best in her own postmatch news conference. "I'm just very surprised that she's hungry to keep winning," she said of Venus. "She has won almost everything. She's not young anymore. ... She keeps winning, makes two finals Grand Slams this year. She just shows this toughness."
Well put. The grande dame of tennis will march on. Don't for a moment cry for her or feel terribly bad.