PARIS — Almost from the moment Venus and Serena Williams appeared on the Grand Slam scene in the late 1990s, they’ve been winning titles and transcending tennis, becoming celebrities as much as sports stars.
Every so often, they’ve heard questions about whether their best days were behind them, whether health problems or off-court distractions were taking their toll.
And each time, it seemed, one or the other – or sometimes, both – would reach a major final, as if to say, “Hey, don’t count us out yet.”
Now that each is past her 30th birthday, and big victories are less frequent, those questions are bound to get more persistent, especially after this week. The French Open has been the worst Grand Slam tournament in Williams family history, the first of the 43 that both entered at which neither reached the third round.
Venus lost 6-2, 6-3 in the second round Wednesday, barely providing any resistance against Agnieszka Radwanska, who might be seeded No. 3 but never has been past the quarterfinals at a major tournament.
Asked whether the thought crossed her mind she might have played her last French Open match, she didn’t hesitate.
“No, not at all,” replied Venus. “I can’t walk out on the court and say, ‘Oh, my God, this is it.’ That’s not the way I see it.”
Serena, meanwhile, lost 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the first round Tuesday to Virginie Razzano, a woman who is ranked 111th and never has made it beyond the fourth round at a major.
Both have been No. 1 in the WTA rankings, but Serena is now No. 5, and Venus is No. 53.
“I just can’t see them – especially Serena – retiring. Serena’s been the best of the best for so long,” 20-year-old Melanie Oudin said. “Even when she’s out for a while, she comes back, and she can still play amazing tennis and beat everyone.”
The world will be watching when Wimbledon begins in June to find out if that’s still the case.