NEW YORK -- Venus Williams basked in the cheers at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the sun set just over the newly operational roof. She had lost her fourth-round match 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (3) to Karolina Pliskova. The match was technically an upset, since Williams had a No. 6 seed and Pliskova was No. 10, but in a few important ways, the result was another success for Williams in a year of success.
"Yeah, definitely a ton of positives," Williams said of her season. "I'm looking forward to continuing a lot of positives on the court."
Venus left that grateful stadium to her sister Serena, the top-seeded woman in the tournament and one of the greatest players of all time. These women make sisterhood look like a team sport, which, of course, tennis isn't. Serena's greatness naturally attracts the spotlight, while Venus doesn't always get the full measure of her due.
So we can let Venus exit the US Open this year, but not before shining just a bit of the spotlight on what she has been able to accomplish this season.
This is a woman who has rewritten the rules when it comes to age and competitiveness. At 36 -- think about that for a second -- she has reached a Wimbledon semifinal and the fourth round of the French and US Opens. She remains one of the toughest WTA players when it comes to grass.
If she were a young junior just hitting the tour, Williams would be heralded from the rooftops. And yet she isn't. We like our champions to have potential for greatness, and when most of that greatness has been achieved, when the story has been told and the face is familiar, we start looking for the next rising sun.
Williams managed her success this year despite her fatigue-inducing autoimmune disorder, Sjogren's Syndrome. In 2011, that condition forced her to withdraw from the US Open, and many thought it was the beginning of the end of her career. Yet Williams has not allowed the inevitability of age and the unpredictability of her illness to dictate the terms of her career.
"It's just a lot of willpower," Williams said. "That's really what it is. I started to feel better more consistently this year, so I'm always trying to find things to help me feel my best."
That includes a practice routine that involves relentlessly honing her game and starting a sugar-free nutrition regimen which most people would balk at. She admitted it cuts out a lot of good foods, but it makes a difference in her fitness, so she is sticking with it.
"I'm always trying something different to find a peak performance; it's something I started recently," Williams said.
She could have a line of cookbooks and frozen meals. She should be selling face cream and workout gear, and her face could be on the side of every bus from Queens to Manhattan for a month.
But Venus has never been about gratuitous self-promotion. She has her business, she has her game and she works behind the scenes to make tennis a better place for the next generation.
If it were at all difficult to be upstaged by a younger sibling for the better part of one of the longest careers in tennis, Venus gives no indication. Instead, the interactions they have lead one to conclude that tennis may be what they are known for, but it doesn't define them or their relationship.
And that's something worth celebrating.