Tennis is a game where you can see the end coming from a long way off. Unlike most other major sports, you can’t turn defeat into victory on a single play. But tennis is a sport of momentum, where one point can kick loose an avalanche.
Saturday morning at Wimbledon’s Centre Court, Venus Williams had that moment in front of her, had that opportunity to begin the final march to her eighth major, her first in nearly a decade. Up double set point on Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, Williams tried — and failed — to hang in on a 19-stroke point, a rally in which Muguruza preyed on Williams’ forehand. The point slipped away, the game slipped away, the set slipped away, and soon enough, the match slipped away. Muguruza claimed the 2017 Wimbledon championship by a 7-5, 6-0 margin that wasn’t even that close.
Take nothing away from Muguruza, a deserving Wimbledon champion. Both she and Williams faced early match jitters, but Muguruza was able to face hers down, to harness her nerves and come back from two different double break points, including that double set point. Emboldened by her own resolve, Muguruza scorched the Wimbledon grass with a closing performance as exceptional as it was relentless.
Williams, by contrast — saying she’d achieved so much just to reach this point seems to damn her with faint praise, but the simple fact is that she’s 37 years old, nine years removed from her last singles title at Wimbledon. In those nine years, she’s suffered injury, disease, and most recently the trauma from a traffic accident that claimed the life of an elderly man last month in Florida.
Her opponent was 14 years her junior, and after that crucial double set point eluded Williams’ grasp, the difference in age became apparent. Muguruza reeled off nine straight games and absolutely crushed the last of Williams’ hopes.
By the fifth game of the second set, having won just 10 points in the entire set, Williams appeared lost. Muguruza broke Williams with four straight points on the basis of a pinpoint backhand and an arcing forehand that found their mark point after relentless point.
With the match on her racket the next game, up 40-love, Muguruza gave Williams the faintest hint of daylight, surrendering two points, before claiming the title on an anticlimactic challenge. Williams’ shot had sailed long, as a camera’s replay indicated, and Muguruza’s domination was complete. She now has the distinction of having won both of her majors, this year’s Wimbledon and last year’s French Open, by defeating the Williams sisters.
“I had the hardest match today against Venus,” Muguruza said after the match. “She’s an incredible player. I grew up watching her play,” and then smiled as the crowd laughed at the implied age difference.
The future for Muguruza stretches bright and wide — aside from the looming return of Serena Williams, pregnant and out all year — but for Venus, the road ahead is rockier. How much world-class tennis does she have left? How many more chances will she have to claim another major? She wants to play in the Tokyo Olympics, which would be the 20th anniversary of her first gold in Sydney; does she have enough left to claim that?
First, though, she’ll reunite with her family en route to becoming an aunt. Asked after the match for any message to her sister Serena, Williams smiled wistfully. “I miss you,” she said, choking back tears. “I tried my best to do the things you do, but I think there’ll be other opportunities.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.