After a promising start, Venus Williams falls behind in the first singles match

For a memorable Monday night sell-out set at the Citi Open, Venus Williams seemed to have rediscovered their former dominance.

Battling the lingering heat and humidity of the Washington, DC evening – and the Canada Qualifier Rebekah Marino over the net — Williams chased every ball and put on a clinic with her strength and determination. It was hard to believe that this was her first competitive singles match in almost a year.

And then reality and Williams’ 42 years suddenly seemed to catch up with her. She was tired and sluggish in the second set, having few responses to Marino’s powerful serve. Williams also struggled with her own holds, recording three consecutive double faults late in the set.

But Williams’ characteristic tenacity remains very much intact, and she dug deep and found another layer early in the decider. She took the lead 4:1 and victory seemed almost certain.

It should not be. World No. 111 Marino stormed back and won the next five games and eventually the match 4-6 6-1 6-4.

Williams’ comeback tale was over before it even got started.

“I thought I often didn’t play well” said Williams after the match. “I’m just trying to shake off some rust. That’s to be expected. All I can do is just play another tournament and play better.

A win on Monday and perhaps an even bigger run this week would have been the final legendary moment in a career full of them. The seven-time major champion and former world No. 1 had not played a singles match since the Chicago Women’s Open in August 2021, when she lost in straight sets in the first round Su-Wei Hsieh.

Unranked due to her lack of activity lately, Williams received a wild card to play at the Citi Open. She had described playing in the tournament as a “homecoming”. in an opinionsince she had played for Washington’s World TeamTennis team for nine seasons.

It would have been the perfect place to begin her final return triumphantly.

Their prolonged absence from competition and lackluster results in recent years (Williams has won just four games since early 2020) sparked wild rumors of retirement earlier this season. But Williams surprised fans with her return to the mixed doubles court at Wimbledon earlier this summer by teaming up with Jamie Murray. The duo, who were instant fan favorites on the grounds of the All England Club, reached the round of 16 before falling victim to Alicia Barnett and Jonny O’Mara in an epic clash that ended in an 18-16 tiebreak in the decider.

Williams had no plans to play Wimbledon when she arrived in London but said she was inspired by her sister serena‘s comeback and “saw the grass” and “was excited”. She and Murray received a late wildcard entry to attend the event. Perhaps rejuvenated by her time at that tournament, Williams then received a wild card to play singles in Washington as well as the upcoming 1000-level tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati. Williams will need a wild card to compete at the US Open, which begins August 29, but she is expected to receive one for the final major of the year.

Williams will have two more opportunities to prepare for New York in the coming weeks and there were certainly aspects of her game in Monday’s game against Marino that she can feel good about heading north of the border.

The future beyond New York remains much bleaker. Williams has offered few hints about plans in the sport and has been particularly withdrawn when it came to questions about her status on the tour. Speculations about her inevitable retirement are likely to continue, especially if she fails to record a win at any of the lead-in events leading up to the US Open.

Still, as she revealed for Blitze on Monday, she may not be done yet. Williams has spoken extensively about her love of sports and competition, and she cited this as her main motivation for continuing through this phase. As the ecstatic crowd in the nation’s capital proves, tennis will be lucky to have them for as long as that may be.

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