OK, Venus Williams is not the player she once was. Sure, the trademark grunt is still there – the backing track to some of the most deadly groundstrokes in women’s tennis – but it no longer strikes fear in opponents as it once did.
With her aggressive style of play, the power and athleticism she demonstrated on court and, of course, the rivalry she shared with sister Serena, Venus completely changed the game of tennis.
But that was then.
Now it’s 2019 and Venus is getting unceremoniously dumped out of the All-England club at the hands of fifteen-year-old Cori Gauff.
Gauff, in her first appearance at a Grand Slam, defeated Venus in straight sets 6-4 6-4 in last night’s opening round, reinforcing the argument that the five-time Wimbledon champ should probably call it a day.
If anyone considers this a fall from grace, Venus can take pleasure in the fact she undoubtedly inspired Gauff’s rise – even if it means she now suffers the consequences. Besides, try not to feel too bad for the seven-time Grand Slam champ – with over $35m in prize money to her name, we imagine she’ll be just fine. And while Venus is the first major casualty this year, she certainly won’t be the last. Within hours, reigning champion Naomi Osaka had fallen to Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva, and a quick glance back at the tournament’s recent history shows the pair is not alone.
Here are some you need to know about.
Jelena Dokic defeats Martina Hingis, 6-2, 6-0 (1999)
Aged just 18, Hingis was ranked world No.1 and already a bona fide sensation. Two years after becoming the youngest player to win a Grand Slam, she was the darling of tennis and everyone expected her to make light work of the unknown Dokic. The Aussie didn’t get the memo though, dispatching the Swiss star while only dropping two games.
The shock result would cause Hingis to take a brief break from tennis and would set Dokic on a path to more glory and ultimately, a very messy and at times troubling career.
Lori McNeil defeats Steffi Graf, 7-5 7-6 (1994)
A GOAT of the pre-Serena era, Graf had a bit of thing about playing McNeil. The American had enjoyed some success on the WTA Tour but really turned it on whenever facing off against the German star. In 1992, McNeil defeated Graf in the WTA Tour Championships – the first time Graf had lost in the opening round of a tournament for seven years.
Two years later and McNeil achieved the same feat, this time on the grass courts of Wimbledon. It would mark the only time in the tournament’s strawberry-peppered past that a reigning champ had lost in the first round. Ouch.
Ivo Karlovic defeats Lleyton Hewitt, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 (2003)
The opposite of a David and Goliath story. Well, kind of. Today, the big-serving Karlovic is a constant threat when it comes to the slick courts of SW19. But, back in ’03 he was just a towering 6’10’’ anomaly – no one knew if his game could extend beyond a big first serve.
Australia’s finest, Lleyton Heweitt, would figure this out the hard way, falling in four sets to the Croatian on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. The Aussie took the defeat with humility, admitting afterward, “There wasn’t a whole heap I could do out there”.
John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg (1981)
This one is more significant in what happened next. McEnroe and Borg were locked in a rivalry of the ages. The polar opposites of each other, one was a calm Swede, silent and brooding on court, the other a brash American known for temper tantrums with umpires. In 1980, McEnroe reached his first Wimbledon final where he hoped to defeat Borg who was aiming for his fifth consecutive title.
In what was considered one of the best matches of the century, Borg won in five brutal sets. Next year was a different story, with the American prevailing in the final, ending Borg’s run of 41 wins in a row at Wimbledon.
A few months later, the pair would meet in the final of the US Open – McEnroe again defeated his rival and it’s what happened next that formed one of the most iconic and significant events in tennis history: upon losing the match, Borg would not simply exit the court but the stadium altogether.
Missing the post-match press conference and the closing ceremony, Borg left the building and decided he was done with the sport. He would retired a few months later at the tender age of 26.
Steve Darcis defeats Rafael Nadal, 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 (2013)
The previous year, Nadal had suffered his first Wimbledon shock at the hands of Lucas Rosol. The world no.100 had beaten the Spaniard 6-7 (9-11) 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-4 in the second round and the tennis world had processed the result as simply an off-day – the likes of which won’t happen again any time soon.
But then it did – a year later, Nadal lost again to an unknown, this time in the first round and in straight sets.
Sergiy Stakhovsky defeats Roger Federer, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) (2013)
Even the almighty Federer is not safe. Having just watched his rival Nadal lose out in the opening round, the Swiss master would have walked onto Centre Court assuming his journey to a record eighth victory just got a hell of a lot easier.
Sergiy Stakhovsky had other ideas, though, and put on a combination of dogged determination and relentless baseline play that saw Federer join Nadal in watching the rest of the competition from the sidelines.