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Venus discovers her rivals aren't only ones standing in her way of sixth crown

 

By Ed Curran

Wimbledon served up a moment of tearful high drama yesterday, but not on any of its immaculately manicured courts.

Seated a few feet in front of me in the Wimbledon interview room, Venus Williams looked uncharacteristically nervous.

She had just won her match and might have been expected to be upbeat. Instead, the five-time Wimbledon champion was strangely subdued as if she knew what course the questioning was about to take.

"How difficult has it been, the last couple of weeks for you?" she was asked.

"You know, tennis is the love of my life. It gives me joy. That's what I say," she replied.

Perhaps she knew what was coming, but clearly the memory of her experience when she was involved in a fatal car accident in Florida last month was coming back to haunt her.

An American journalist observed: "I saw you wrote on your Facebook page some very heartfelt words about the accident. Anything else you would like to say about that...?"

"There are really no words to describe, like how devastating. I'm completely speechless... it's just - I mean - I'm just..."

Her words tailed away. It was all too much even for such an accomplished sporting icon. Her face filled with tears. She covered her eyes with her hands.

Wimbledon can be cruel, but usually on the court and not as we saw yesterday.

Though she had just won her first round match, there was no cause for celebration. Memories of what happened less than a month ago are still raw. Her car crossed a road junction in Palm Beach, Florida, resulting in the death of a 78-year-old man, whose family claim Williams was at fault.

Whatever the disputed circumstances and whoever was to blame, the recollection of the incident was too much for Williams. One of Wimbledon's most resilient legends lost her composure and left in tears.

When she bravely returned to face more questions a few minutes later, her distress was obvious. Her interview petered out in silence, leaving everyone to ponder whether events in faraway Florida on the night of June 9 and the death of an elderly man might play a role in the destiny of this year's title.

Such is the unexpected drama which Wimbledon can produce even on a day of low-key and fairly predictable results, mirrored by overcast skies and a fleeting rain delay.

Right on cue, at one o'clock, the Great British hero, Andy Murray, walked onto Centre Court and soon proceeded to dispatch 20-year-old rookie, Alexander Bublik.

However, there were two Andy Murrays on show - the one with the pronounced limp who seemed to hobble painfully back to the baseline to serve, the other the one who won easily by ignoring whatever difficulty he was having with his hip.

Afterwards, he talked down any problems he is experiencing. Perhaps, suggested Murray, he had always walked the way he did yesterday.

Buoyed on by pain-killing injections, Murray still produced some extraordinary tennis. He hobbled, if not strolled, to an easy straight sets victory, principally because his inexperienced opponent had a propensity to double fault just when it looked as if he might win more than the seven games that he did.

As the 30-year-old Scot opened proceedings on the Centre Court, glamour was in much supply around him. A few feet above his outstretched service arm, the Duchess of Cambridge, herself a playing member of the All England club, looked on approvingly from the front row of the Royal Box.

The Duchess did not see the most impressive tennis of the day served up with blistering shots and in athletic style by Rafael Nadal on Court No.1. No wonder he received a standing ovation at the end. If there was one player on song yesterday it was Nadal, giving notice that he has the game to win the men's title.

No sooner had he left in the early evening sunshine which replaced the earlier rain, than Britain's Johanna Konta gave notice also on the same court that she will be a strong contender in the ladies' singles. She thrilled the home crowd and, in their respective victories, Konta and Heather Watson reminded everyone of how far British tennis has travelled. No longer do the Brits have to depend on rain on the opening days to have anyone playing later in the week.

Yesterday's opening didn't produce an obvious potential men's winner other than Nadal. Murray looked relaxed and relieved, though confessing to be still in 'a little pain', but whether the man with the limp can last a fortnight remains in the lap of the Wimbledon gods.

As for Williams, her strength like that of her sister Serena, has been always in never giving in lightly and somehow finding a way to beat the toughest opponents.

At 37, it would be extraordinary for her to win another Wimbledon, but one of the obstacles she faces is not across the net from her. Rather it is the demons embedded in her mind over that fateful night in Florida less than a month ago.

Belfast Telegraph

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